Erring officials can’t escape liability under Santiago bill
Reelection should not allow a public official to escape administrative liability for misdeeds during his prior term as this would lead to a “ludicrous” situation, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said.
Santiago has filed a bill to ensure that elected officials would be made to answer administratively for illegal acts committed during their preceding term, after the camp of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay claimed he should not be held liable for alleged irregularities in the construction of the Makati City Hall Building II during his first term in 2010-2013.
Binay’s camp cited a Supreme Court ruling that said a public official could not be removed administratively for misconduct committed during a prior term, as reelection effectively condoned the official’s misconduct.
“That is a cross-eyed simplification of the problem. The first qualification for a public office should be honesty and integrity,” Santiago said in a statement.
Santiago, a former trial court judge, said this reasoning could spur public officials to commit wrongdoing since they would have a way out in the next election.
“The result would be ludicrous. Any public official will feel free to commit a crime, including plunder, and then win reelection, if it automatically means his previous crimes are condoned,” she said.
Her bill would insert a new section in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act stating that “any elective official shall be liable for any violation of this act committed during a prior term despite reelection.”
In her explanatory note, she said it was well-established policy that public servants should have the highest virtues of integrity, honesty, discipline and uprightness.
But she lamented that contrary to this policy, the Supreme Court in a 2010 case reiterated the doctrine of condonation enunciated in another ruling handed down nearly 60 years ago.
That ruling in the case of Pascual v the Provincial Board of Nueva Ecija prohibited the disciplining of an elected official for a wrongful act committed during his immediately preceding term.
It said the court should not remove a public official for acts committed prior to his current term, as this would deprive the people of their right to elect their officials.
It said that when people voted for the official, it must be assumed they did it with knowledge of his life and character, and that they had disregarded or forgiven his faults or misconduct.
This ruling, Santiago said, provided a blanket defense for elected officials to evade liability by getting reelected.
“By merely asserting the doctrine of condonation, erring elective officials are automatically given a clean slate once reelected. Thus, there is a need to evaluate this doctrine in light of the express constitutional mandate that public office is a public trust,” she said.
Earlier, Santiago took the Office of the Ombudsman’s side in its dispute with Binay over the suspension order against him.
Based on jurisprudence, the Ombudsman can order the immediate suspension of a sitting mayor, she said.
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