On preventive suspension

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By Andy H. Hagad

Bottom Line

Monday, January 27, 2014


THE headlines last Friday bannered the denial by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales of the motion for reconsideration filed by Mayor Monico Puentevella in connection with the “computer scam case” in which Monico was alleged to have been involved when he was still congressman of the lone district of Bacolod.

Atty. Jojo Bayatan, lawyer of the complaining parties, predicted the preventive suspension of the mayor very soon while Atty. Lando Villamor, appearing for the mayor, denied Bayatan’s claim.

Both lawyers are probably right, with only the period when the service of suspension will actually be served separating the accuracy of their statements. Both the Plunder Law (R.A. 7080) and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. 3019) order the suspension of the public officer charged with a crime covered by these two laws. Their provisions on the subject are in fact strikingly similar.

Section 5 of the Plunder Law states that: “Any public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this act in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation is pending in court shall be suspended from office. . .”

Similarly, Section 13 of the Anti-Graft Law states that: “Any public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act or under the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on bribery is pending in court shall be suspended from office.”

In at least two cases decided by the Supreme Court (Lucian vs. Provincial Government (G.R. No. L-30306) and Bunye vs. Escareal (226 SCRA 332) the uniform ruling was that the preventive suspension handed down by the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act is mandatory because of the use of the word “shall.” While a similar case involving the Plunder Law does not seem to have reached the Supreme Court yet, it is probably safe to assume that the justices will apply the same ruling they gave in the Lucian and Bunye cases.

Note, however, that both the Plunder and the Anti-Graft laws mention that suspension follows the issuance of “valid information.” The information is filed by the Office of the Ombudsman with the Sandiganbayan. It is the Sandiganbayan which then issues the preventive suspension order.

Last Friday’s news indicated that Ombudsman Morales only denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the mayor’s lawyers. She has not yet prepared the information, much less forwarded it to the Sandiganbayan. Until that has been done Atty. Villamor is correct – no suspension order is expected. Once the information is accepted by the Sandiganbayan though, Atty. Bayatan’s prediction will then happen.

It is reasonable to expect that valid information will be filed against Mayor Newks and that the complaint will be heard. Due process of law grants him the right to a trial on-the-merits, to validate his constitutional presumption of innocence, as well as for the State to determine whether or not a violation of the laws has been committed.

Personally, I hope the preventive suspension will not happen soon. I hope the mayor will have enough time to complete his ongoing moves to systematize our city’s garbage operations, clear Bacolod of illegal vendors, re-open the Vendors’ Plaza, regulate the tricycle and trisikad operation, and discipline our vehicular and pedestrian traffic, some of the many things we have witnessed happening the past few weeks, to our extreme satisfaction. We’ve waited years for these problems to be attended to, and the timing of the Ombudsman could not have been worse.

Wish you a good fight, Newks. And we expect the Vice Mayor and our councilors to continue to move Bacolod forward in the direction the Mayor’s Office has set, with or without Monico Puentevella’s presence inside the Government Center.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 27, 2014.

Opinion

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