MANILA - The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of Senator Joel Villanueva and the filing of criminal charges against him for the alleged misuse of pork barrel funds when he was still a congressman. But does the anti-graft watchdog have the authority to do so?
For Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, the issue should still be weighed by the judiciary.
Drilon explained that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over senators and congressmen, as stated in the Constitution and the Ombudsman Law.
The case against Villanueva -- which stems from the 2008 release of P10 million of his congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to a “ghost” livelihood project -- was filed in 2010 when he was already director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).
The Ombudsman has jurisdiction over Villanueva as Tesda Secretary, Drilon said. But he also noted that the order of perpetual disqualification from public office against Villanueva has affected his term in the Senate.
"Ang Ombudsman ang may kapangyarihan over Villanueva bilang Tesda director general, iyan po ang ginamit para po sabihin na mali po ang paggamit ng PDAF at dito sa kasong administratibo ay dapat tanggalin siya bilang secretary ng Tesda," he said in a radio DZMM interview.
"Kaya ang naging parusa ay perpetual disqualification from holding public office. At sa parusang perpetual disqualification, naapektuhan ang kanyang termino bilang senador."
Drilon said Villanueva's looming dismissal is different from the preventive suspension ordered by the Ombudsman against other lawmakers like Senator JV Ejercito.
"Ang pagkakaiba po, iyung suspension kay JV, iyun po ay preventive suspension. Ibig sabihin hindi parusa... Ngunit iyung pagsuspinde bilang parusa -- hindi lang preventive -- iyun po ay hindi pwedeng gawin ng Ombudsman sa mga kongresista at senador," Drilon said.
(The difference is that the suspension againt JV is preventive, it is not a penalty. Villanueva's suspension, on the other hand, is not just preventive -- the Ombudsman cannot do that to congressmen and senators.)
Drilon, who previously served as Senate President, said Villanueva's case is unprecedented and should be tackled by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
"This is the first time that I encountered such a case. It must be brought up immediately before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court so they could decide on what is really right," he said.
Villanueva has maintained that he never pocketed a single centavo from his PDAF.
Senate President Koko Pimentel has referred the dismissal issue to the Committee on Rules, which is expected to discuss the next steps to be taken the chamber.