The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the dismissal of detained former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan due to unexplained wealth and underdeclared assets amounting to P70.67 million.
In a 22-page decision dated July 5, 2017, penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, the appellate court’s 14th Division junked Ampatuan’s plea for a reversal of the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman, there being no reversible error in the outcome of the investigation by the anti-graft body's lifestyle check panel.
The lifestyle check on Ampatuan covered the period from 2000 up to 2009, wherein his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) declared a net worth of P6.99 million with no liabilities, then ballooned to P19.29 million with total assets of P36.49 million and total liabilities of P17.2-million in 2009.
The Ombudsman said Ampatuan failed to declare some P43.73-million of his wealth.
“[T]he evidence presented by the respondent (panel) well supports the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman that [Ampatuan] did not only fail to disclose all his and his
wife’s assets but also failed to provide an explanation as to how he and/or his wife acquired assets,” the decision read.
On June 26, 2015, the Ombudsman found Amputuan guilty of serious dishonesty and grave misconduct, and ordered him dismissed from the service with accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
The Ombudsman explained the aggregate amount of Ampatuan’s wealth was “grossly disproportionate” to his legitimate income during the abovementioned period.
The anti-graft body affirmed its ruling on September 23, 2015.
At the time the Ombudsman resolved the case, Ampatuan was already in detention at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City for multiple counts of murder in relation to the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
Since the penalty of dismissal may no longer be implemented, Ampatuan was fined, in the alternative, an amount equivalent to his one year salary when he was still ARMM
Ampatuan and wife, former Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao Mayor Bai Johaira Midtimbang, own 38 house and lot properties in Shariff Aguak, Davao City, Cotabato City, and Metro Manila worth P58.48 million; 24 vehicles estimated at P46.96 million; 26 firearms worth P6 million; and travelled abroad 16 times in a five-year period.
Ampatuan declared the "Maguindanao Pawnshop" as his only business.
In elevating his appeal with the CA, Ampatuan claimed he was unable to file his counter-affidavit and other defenses due to his former lawyer’s “gross negligence,” and as a consequence, was denied due process.
The appellate court, however, was unconvinced by the argument.
“[T]he contention of [Ampatuan] that he was denied due process by reason of his former counsel’s gross negligence is clearly bereft of merit,” the decision read.
The CA added Ampatuan was given another opportunity in February 2011 to present his defense through the submission of a verified position paper, but again failed to comply.