Lawyers spar over mayor’s indictment

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Thursday, January 30, 2014


THE lawyers of Bacolod City Mayor Monico Puentevella and of his predecessor Representative Evelio Leonardia are sparring over the issue on whether Puentevella will be suspended following his indictment by the Office of the Ombudsman.

The mayor has been accused of alleged irregular purchase of computer packages worth P25 million using his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) when he was still congressman.

Puentevella’s motion for reconsideration was denied for lack of merit by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on January 22, 2014.

Lawyer Joselito Bayatan, a city legal officer during the term of Leonardia and one of the complainants, filed an Omnibus motion before the Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City last January 25 to expedite the filing of information and to require the special prosecutor to file before the Sandiganbayan a motion to suspend Puentevella.

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City Administrator Rolando Villamor, a member of Puentevella’s legal team, said: "We are so prepared in case the information is filed before the Sandiganbayan. They were capitalizing on my previous statement that the mayor will not be suspended which they misinterpreted. I said that the mayor will not be suspended in the time frame of within a week.”

Bayatan said the mayor can be suspended soon citing jurisprudence, adding that the camp of Puentevella cited to protect his right to a pre-suspension hearing that could delay his temporary departure from office is the same ruling that says it is, in fact, "mandatory."

Bayatan said the prominent jurisprudence is the "Segovia, et al versus Sandiganbayan, et al" ruling that "the mandatory suspension decreed by the act upon determination of the pendency in court or criminal prosecution for violation of the Anti-Graft Act or for bribery under a valid information requires at the same time that the hearing be expeditious, and not duly protracted such as to thwart the prompt suspension envisioned by the Act."

“It does not matter that he is now the city mayor while he was then a congressman when he committed the crime charged, because under the same jurisprudence, one of the reasons for a public official’s suspension even if his current position no longer pertains to his former official duties, is ‘to prevent the accused from committing further acts of malfeasance while in office,’” Bayatan said in his motion.

Villamor earlier said there is a so called pre-suspension hearing so that the prosecution can prove that the information filed against Puentevella is valid.

Puentevella’s co-respondents are Victorino Tirol Jr., former regional director of the Department of Education Region 6 and Jessie Garcia, chairman of the board of Merryland Publishing Corp., the supplier of IT (information technology) packages in question.

Bayatan said it is "under the same vein" of the Segovia case that he promptly filed the Omnibus motion, "if only to disabuse the minds" of Puentevella and Villamor that "they can yet belittle the resolution" of the Ombudsman in denying their motion for reconsideration.

"Worse, that they can also trivialize the consequential rules on suspension, by irreverently claiming that it will take more Decembers and many more years before the suspension can happen against Puentevella," Bayatan added.

He further quoted the jurisprudence of the Segovia case as saying, "taking into consideration the public policy involved in preventively suspending a public officer charged under valid information, the protection of public interest will definitely have to prevail over the private interest of the accused."

"In sum, there is nothing to impede neither to hamper the authority and power of the Ombudsman to forthwith file an appropriate information against Puentevella with the corresponding motion for his suspension from office, pursuant to the mandatory provision of R. A. 3019, Section 13," Bayatan concluded in his Omnibus motion.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 30, 2014.

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