As the dust settled over the euphoria that greeted the Ombudsman ruling dismissing the case against Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno, one fact is crystal clear even if it hasn't sunk in yet in the minds of his political opponents.
And that is, the mayor will not be disqualified anytime soon. Let me give you my two cents worth of assessment on the Ombudsman ruling which is that I knew all along that its previous decision was wrong and the corresponding penalty too severe.
The mayor called for due process and nobody listened and it took long time for the Ombudsman to discover Moreno was right. What a shame.
It could have been the greatest miscarriage of justice had not the Ombudsman cleared Moreno's name in the Ajinomoto case. I don't know what to say on this case, as the previous orders issued were tantamount to Moreno being convicted without being given his day in court.
It looks like the Ombudsman was in a hurry to oust the former governor of the province. A valuable lesson learned for those facing pending cases at the Ombudsman: don't lose hope for at the end of the tunnel justice may emerge.
This case is a win not only for Moreno but local executives who may in the future finds themselves in the same situation as the mayor and then City Treasurer Glen Banez.
But let's revisit the case; can a local executive enter into an agreement over the settlement of tax liabilities without the consent of the local legislature? Can a city executive revise essential to non-essential items?
The case stemmed from nearly P2 million worth of tax liabilities incurred by Ajinomoto Philippines and Ajinomoto filed a case against the Cagayan de Oro City government at the Regional Trial Court.
I can only assume the complaint questioning the tax assessment. The liabilities were incurred before Moreno became Cagayan de Oro City mayor. This meant that the tax assessment was based on local taxation.
While it was heard in court, it underwent mediation which meant that the parties can come into an agreement to abbreviate proceedings. It is allowed by the rules of court.
The city government under the Moreno administration was steadfast in collecting past liabilities to fund its numerous projects like schools, roads, hospitals and many more especially the hinterlands which were deprived of these projects.
In so doing, on recommendation of the City Treasurer–which by the way is not under the mayor's office but by the Local Government Finance—a reassessment of the taxes from essential to non-essential was given.
In this case, then city treasurer Banez came from Quezon City and we can only assume has a wealth of experience when he was recommended by Moreno for the post.
Maybe Banez had a basis to recommend compromise instead of waiting for years to finish the case. And Mayor Moreno acted on that recommendation and exercised the latitude of his executive power.
He did this by entering into a contract with Ajinomoto that allowed the company to pay P300,000 instead of going to trial which is messy, time-consuming and intensive.
How soon can a decision be arrived at only time can tell as there many cases still pending in court. Maybe, Ajinomoto has a strong case and the city government is on the losing end.
The mayor has the power to enter into a contract in case of expediency to collect the amount without the need of legislature approval especially at that time when he has only a few votes at the City Council.
If every initiative of the mayor required approval from the City Council then we might as well combine both. That's giving too much power to a co-equal branch of government.
I just find that setup funny at the least and alarming as that “Momo Challenge” I've been hearing so much about.
The Ombudsman may have corrected its October 2015 decision dismissing Moreno from office and worse, perpetually disqualifying him from holding public office.
The decision came amid Moreno's pleading due process as he was not given a day in court and his counter affidavit was not considered because it was “lost” in the process.
I can still hear the mayor's explanation to the public that he was denied due process since he was unable to have his day in court through his counter affidavit
But no, not everyone believed him and his detractors already convicted him and “pronounced” their judgement to the public through their favored media.
This despite the fact that the Ombudsman's jurisdiction is only to determine if there is a probable cause that warrants the filing of the case.
And true enough, in its orders February 23, 2016 and October 20,2018 the Ombudsman eventually corrected itself.
It is just easy for the Ombudsman to rectify their decisions which nearly maimed Moreno politically. It is good that the mayor was not distracted with the cases and left it to his lawyer Dale Brian Mordeno to handle.
Moreno instead focused on building schools, open new roads, build more hospitals, promote and implement best governance programs for the city. A pity that his political opponents are too blind to see that he is nearing the finish line.
I can only hope in the future that the Ombudsman doesn't allow itself to be used by persons with insidious motives of destroying public officials without solid proof or legal basis.
In the meantime, I hope that the ruling on Moreno's case will find its way through an amendment to the 1991 Local Government Code.