Dismissal of ex-Makati mayor Junjun Binay upended by Court of Appeals

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By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent

Disgraced former Makati mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay could stage a comeback after the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed his dismissal in 2015 by the Office of the Ombudsman for his alleged involvement in the grossly overpriced city hall annex building. The Ombudsman also forbade Binay to seek public office again.

In up-ending the Ombudsman’s dismissal of Junjun over the allegedly anomalous PHP 2.28-billion Makati City Hall Building II project, the appellate court cited the condonation doctrine, also called Aquinaldo doctrine because of a previous case involving that name.

This ambiguous doctrine holds that a government official cannot be responsible for an administrative offense if this was committed before he assumed his current position. In his appeal with the CA that invoked the condonation doctrine, Binay argued that he was not yet mayor when the city government undertook construction of the controversial building.

The CA’s 10th Division, in a 159-page ruling dated May 3, granted Binay’s Petition for Review. It held that “the Administrative Complaints against Binay are hereby dismissed for being moot and academic on the basis of the condonation doctrine.”

Binay filed the appeal before the CA, asserting that the Aguinaldo or condonation doctrine applies to him. He was a few months shy of completing his mayoral term and was set to launch a re-election bid in the 2016 elections. The mayor’s post was taken over by Romulo Pena, the councilor that obtained the highest number of votes.

In effect, the condonation doctrine extinguishes the administrative liability of a re-elected official for an act committed in his previous term.

In November 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine, which became part of Philippine jurisprudence in 1959, has no basis in the 1987 Constitution and in law. It also ruled, however, that abandonment of the doctrine would not be retroactive.

The Ombudsman had found the former Makati mayor guilty of administrative charges of grave misconduct and intellectual dishonesty over the construction of the controversial building. It also said that the condonation doctrine did not apply to Binay.

“Given the factual circumstances herein and the prevailing jurisprudence, this court holds that the undisputed and subsequent re-election of Binay, Jr. in the year 2013 is a condonation of his administrative liabilities,” the CA said.

“In the same token, this court agrees with Binay, Jr. that the condonation doctrine still applies to his case, notwithstanding the approval of the aforementioned (Disbursement Vouchers) as these pertained to payment of services contracted during his prior term,” the CA added.

The CA added: “Clearly, these pertained to acts which transpired before Binay, Jr., was subsequently elected and continued in public office on May 14, 2013. It is uncontroverted that Binay, Jr. served as the City Mayor of Makati from June 28, 2010 and was re-elected into the same office on May 14, 2013.”

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon. Concurring were Associate Justices Sesinando Villon and Maria Filomena Singh. The ruling clarified that the doctrine of condonation does not apply to criminal charges.

The CA decision on Binay was preceded by a Supreme Court ruling allowing the application of the condonation doctrine on the case. The doctrine has been a common defense invoked by elected officials in evading liabilities for acts committed in their previous terms in office.

It effectively extinguishes a re-elected official’s administrative liability from alleged wrongdoing during a previous term.

The SC conceived of the doctrine in an October 1959 decision. The abandonment of the doctrine would be prospective in application, as agreed upon by the majority of justices during the voting. This means the doctrine will apply on Binay’s case but he will be the last to benefit from it.

The SC rejected the position of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales that the condonation doctrine cannot apply in Binay’s case.

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