THE Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices has ordered the suspension of five policemen and three Provincial Government employees, who are members of the Capitol’s Task Force Lawod, due to simple misconduct.
Ordered suspended were Superintendent Gabriel Gutierrez, Senior Police Officer 1 Alfredo Chaves, Police Office 3 Onald Villa, Police Officer 2 Albert Juaneza, and Police Officer 2 Dennis Capatar, all of the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office (Nocppo), and Noel de la Cruz, Neil Francis Gepanago and Welman Mendones, all of the Provincial Environment Management Office (Pemo).
The respondents were found guilty of simple misconduct, according to the eight-page joint resolution penned by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Avelino Macamus Jr. on April 5, 2017 and approved by Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices Cyril Ramos, a copy of which was furnished to the media by the complainant’s legal counsel.
They were meted the penalty of three months and one day suspension from the service without pay.
In the event that the penalty of suspension can no longer be enforced due to their separation from the service, the same shall be converted into a fine in the amount equivalent to their respective salaries for three months, the decision said.
The fine is payable to the Office of the Ombudsman and may be deductible from their retirement benefits, accrued leave credits or any receivable from their office, it added.
The criminal charges filed against them were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence and grounds.
Complainants Gerardo Alolod, Noel Hilado and Robert Despi, employees of commercial fishing vessel F/V Aqua King, filed qualified piracy, grave coercion, arbitrary detention, and robbery charges against the eight respondents.
They also filed for misconduct, abuse of authority, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, conduct unbecoming a public officer, and gross ignorance of the law.
On August 18, 2014, authorities intercepted the F/V Aqua King vessel boarded by 24 crew members on a fishing expedition at the seawaters between Guimaras Island and southernmost part of Negros Occidental, the Ombudsman said.
Gutierrez, who boarded the navy vessel, insisted that Alolod and his men were within the prohibited zone despite the latter’s earlier conferment with the navy boat captain, saying otherwise.
The resolution stated that the police ordered complainants to disembark and board the navy vessel.
“Despite Alolod’s explanation that the fishing vessel should not be left without a boat captain as it is against maritime laws, Gutierrez ignored him and threatened to shoot,” it said.
On August 19, the complainants were brought to Nocppo and Hall of Justice in Bacolod City. They were then released on the afternoon of the same day.
Chavez, one of the respondents, forcefully ordered crew member Ramonito Villalon to operate F/V Aqua King and follow the navy vessel.
Despite insisting that he is not licensed and authorized to operate, Villalon, frightened, steered the vessel, the Ombudsman said.
It said that other respondents Villa, Juaneza, De la Cruz, Mendones, Gepanago and two others boarded the vessel and conducted “indiscriminate” search.
A day after, on August 20, one complainant discovered that the money worth P50,000 kept in the cabin for the vessel’s emergency expenses was missing.
According to complainants, respondents committed qualified piracy for boarding F/V Aqua King without authority; grave coercion for forcing Villalon to navigate the vessel; arbitrary detention for preventing crew members from leaving the vessel; and robbery for taking the money.
The respondents, for their part, denied the charges and claimed that they were in the lawful and regular performance of their duties as members of the Task Force Lawod when they apprehended complainants for violation of Republic Act 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
The task force has the primary function of implementing and enforcing coastal laws, rules, regulations and ordinances within the component cities and municipalities of Negros Occidental, the resolution said.
The Ombudsman resolved that there is no basis for filing the qualified piracy, grace coercion, arbitrary detention, and robbery charges.
“However, there is substantial evidence to hold respondents liable of simple misconduct. They transgressed the law when they made complainants board the navy vessel, leaving F/V Aqua King unmanned by an official,” it added.
SunStar Bacolod tried to contact Gutierrez for comment, but he cannot be reached as of Tuesday.
Published in the SunStar Bacolod newspaper on November 15, 2017.
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