MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the six-month preventive suspension without pay imposed by the Office of the Ombudsman against former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima in connection with the allegedly anomalous contract the PNP entered into with a courier service in 2011.
In a 13-page decision penned by Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe in GR No. 219501 (Purisima v. Morales) promulgated on July 26, 2017, the Court’s First Division denied Purisima’s petition for review on certiorari and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated July 29, 2015.
The CA ruling affirmed the Dec. 3, 2014 order issued by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales which preventively suspended the former PNP chief during the pendency of the consolidated cases against him.
The High Court held that the Ombudsman acted within her powers and that the same is explicitly authorized to issue a preventive suspension order under Section 24 of Republic Act 6770 when conditions are met.
It also held that “the Ombudsman found that the evidence of guilt against Purisima was strong enough to place him under preventive suspension. Said finding cannot be said to be tainted with grave abuse of discretion as it was based on supporting documentary evidence, none of which were questioned to be inadmissible.”
Likewise, the High Court noted that the Ombudsman did not violate Purisima’s right to due process nor did she prejudged the case when she issued the preventive suspension order before Purisima was able to file his counter-affidavit for the second complaint.
Citing Lastimosa v. Ombudsman, the Court held that the Ombudsman may issue a preventive suspension order prior to the filing of an answer or counter-affidavit, considering that the same is but a preventive measure.
“Ultimately, it should be borne in mind that the issuance of a preventive suspension order does not amount to a prejudgment of the merits of the case. Neither is it a demonstration of a public official’s guilt as such pronouncement can be done only after trial on the merits,” the Court said.
The High Court, however, stressed that a case questioning the validity of a preventive suspension is not mooted by the supervening lifting of the same, contrary to the earlier CA ruling which said petitions are moot in view of the lapse of the six-month period of preventive suspension.
The High Court reiterated that in the exercise of its expanded judicial power, the Court may not be precluded from passing upon the order’s validity so as to determine whether or not grave abuse of discretion attended the issuance of the same. It held that since the propriety or impropriety of Purisima’s preventive suspension would essentially determine his entitlement to back salaries during the six-month period therefor, the Court holds that despite the lapse of the period of his preventive suspension, there remains some practical value or use in resolving his petition assailing the Ombudsman’s order.
In 2011, PNP entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with WER FAST Documentary Agency, Inc. (WER FAST) to provide courier services to deliver firearms licenses to gun owners sans any public bidding.
In 2014, then PNP Chief Purisima was charged with two complaints before the Ombudsman.
The first complaint was filed by a private individual charging him for violation of RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Official and Employees), RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), RA 7080 (An Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder), and RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act), alleging, among others, that the MOA was not procured through competitive bidding and was executed before WER FAST obtained its SEC certificate of registration, and that Purisima has close personal ties with WER FAST’s incorporator and high ranking officer.
The second complaint was filed by the Fact-Finding Investigation Bureau (FFIB)-Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) against Purisima and several PNP officers involved in the MOA’s execution and WER FAST’s accreditation as a courier service provider.
Purisima was allegedly administratively liable for approving the recommendation of his subordinate without verifying or checking the records and capability of WER FAST.