THE Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the suspension for one month and one day of three incumbent councilors and four former councilors of Bacolod City after they were found administratively liable for simple neglect of duty.
The order was served by Department of the Interior and Local Government Bacolod director Carmelo Orbista at the Bacolod City Government Center at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 29.
The ruling is contained in a 10-page resolution signed by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Ellen Mae Lagat-Alde on May 22, 2017 and approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on September 22, 2017.
Suspended were incumbent Councilors Em Ang, Sonya Verdeflor and Wilson Gamboa Jr., and four former councilors, including Jocelle Batapa-Sigue, Roberto Rojas, Alex Paglumotan, and Archie Baribar.
The complaint was filed by former city councilor Juan Ramon Guanzon, also former chairman of Games Amusement Board (GAB), for allegedly approving a resolution authorizing the holding of cockfights on certain dates contrary to the city ordinance.
The order stated that Ang, Verdeflor, Gamboa, Batapa-Sigue, Rojas, Paglumotan, and Baribar were found administratively liable for simple neglect of duty and are meted penalty of suspension for a period of one month and one day, without pay, with a stern warning that repetition or commission of the same or similar offense would be dealt with more severely.
In the event that the penalty of suspension can no longer be enforced due to respondents separation from service, the penalty shall be converted into a fine in an amount equivalent to respondents salary for one month and one day, payable to the Office of the Ombudsman, and may be deductible from respondents retirement benefits, accrued leave credits, or any receivable from their office.
The administrative charge for abuse of authority and/or ignorance of the law against respondents were dismissed for lack of substantial evidence, the order further stated.
In his letter-complaint, Guanzon stated that Bacolod City has City Ordinance No. 506 which grants special permit to hold cockfights for special and charitable purposes among which is for the benefit of the barangay during Barangay Fiesta and/or Charter Day celebration.
He said the respondents passed SP Resolution No. 08-16-109, Series of 2016, approving the Barangay Tangub Resolution No. 16-103, Series of 2016 entitled “Resolution to hold cockfight (4-cock derby) on April 3, 4, and 5, in connection with the Barangay Tangub Fiesta and to authorize the village chief to hold the same, “in violation of City Ordinance No. 506 considering that Barangay Tangub’s fiesta falls every May 15 while the Barangay Charter Day is in the month of September.
Guanzon claimed that by approving SP Resolution No. 08-16-109, Series of 2016, respondents committed abuse of authority and/or ignorance of the law.
On June 21, 2016, the Ombudsman ordered the respondents to file their counter-affidavits.
In their counter-affidavits, respondents similarly claimed that in every session, the SP of Bacolod handles one to six requests for cockfighting permit and that in the ordinary course, given the voluminous documents that accompany their agenda every week, they merely rely on the contents of barangay resolutions, which should be accorded respect as collegial process of the smallest political unit recognized by Philippine Law.
The respondents pointed out that there was nothing wrong on the part of the City Council to rely on the information from the barangay itself which is expected to know the date of their fiesta, and the fiesta is not set by law or by local government unit ordinance, but by the barangay itself.
The Ombudsman said that there is no substantial evidence to hold respondents administratively liable for abuse of authority and/or ignorance of the law. There was also no evidence showing that their failure to apply the settled law was characterized with bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption.
However, they were found them guilty of simple neglect of duty for failure to give proper attention to a required task.
It signifies disregard of duty due to carelessness or indifference, the Ombudsman added.
For his part, Gamboa said yesterday the Ombudsman abused its power and authority by finding them administratively liable for the penalties of suspension in simple neglect of duty.
“There is no basis in law and in fact to punish us. Such findings is without basis and without any badge of irregularity because City Ordinance No.506, Series of 2009 authored by Councilor Dindo Ramos is silent on the time length of holding the three-day cockfights from the barangay’s fiesta,” he said.
Gamboa added that it only provides that the three-day cockfight will be held in a span of three weeks and not within three weeks from/to fiesta.
Verdeflor, a lawyer, said Guanzon has a pecuniary interest in filing a case against them.
“I believe that Guanzon, who also owns a cockpit, was affected of the cockfight activities of Barangay Tangub,” she said.
She also questioned the charge for simple neglect of duty since the administrative charge for abuse of authority and/or ignorance of the law was already dismissed.
“I feel that this is not fair because in the legislations, the SP members did not go out to conduct investigation in the barangays so we only based on the barangay resolutions,” Verdeflor said.
On November 4, Verdeflor filed a petition for review with temporary restraining order (TRO) and injunction before the Court of Appeals.
She said the TRO is already moot and academic because the order was already served by the DILG.
Verdeflor added that she and Councilors Ang and Gamboa are still covered by the Aguinaldo Doctrine since they have been reelected to their posts.
Ang could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran said his office received a copy of the order served to the three incumbent councilors.