By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) was asked on Tuesday to nullify the 60-day restraining order issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) which lifted temporarily the one-year suspension imposed by the Office of the Ombudsman on four commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission.
In a petition, the Alyansa Para sa Bagong Pilipinas, Inc. (APBPI) told the SC that the CA committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing the 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO).
Suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman last Dec. 11, 2017 were ERC Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit, and Geronimo Sta. Ana.
Published reports stated that they were ordered suspended after they were found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and simple neglect of duty for allegedly allowing electric utilities to forgo the bidding of their power supply agreements (PSAs).
The case against the four commissioners arose from the decision of the ERC to reset the deadline for compliance with the competitive selection process (CSP) from Nov. 6, 2015 to April 30, 2016, thus, exempting the power supply agreements (PSA) from undergoing transparent and public bidding ordained in the CSP.
The Ombudsman ruled that the four commissioners exercised “gross inexcusable negligence” in delaying the CSP’s implementation since the process was put in place to make the PSAs’ cost more reasonable.
The four commissioners elevated the issue before the CA, which, in its Feb. 9, 2018 resolution, issued the 60-day TRO in order not to “impair public service” considering that since the suspension of the four commissioners, the Office of the President has not acted to replace them.
In its petition, APBPI said the CA is not empowered to stay a decision of the Office of the Ombudsman.
It said the CA’s TRO is an encroachment on the rule-making powers of the Office of the Ombudsman under the Constitution, which grants the agency the authority to promulgate its own rules of procedure.
It said the SC, in a previous decision, had held that the appealable decisions of the Office of the Ombudsman are immediately executory pending appeal and may not be stayed by the filing of an appeal or the issuance of an injunctive writ.
“The Ombudsman’s decision in imposing the penalty of suspension for one year is immediately executor pending appeal. It cannot be stayed by the mere filing of an appeal to the CA,” APBPI said.
“In this case, the public respondent committed or acted with grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed resolution granting a TRO against an appealable decision of the Office of the Ombudsman, when jurisprudence is clear on the matter and the principle as to the nature of such Ombudsman’s decision is already settled. The assailed order was issued with grave abuse of discretion and was patently erroneous,” it stressed.