Entire La Trinidad council suspended

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Friday, March 23, 2012


LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- All eight councilors and the vice mayor of the country’s Strawberry Capital are going on a vacation for three months each.

This was after a decision was meted by Judge Danilo Camacho sealing the fate of local councilors.

On Tuesday, Camacho ordered a 90-day suspension on Vice Mayor Romeo Salda, presiding officer of the La Trinidad town council, and Councilors Jim Botiwey, Henry Kipas, Arthur Shontogan, Roderick Awingan, Horacio Ramos Jr., Estrella Adeban, Francis Lee, Von Tauli and Robert Namoro, who all on December 2010, declared journalist Jimmy Laking “persona non grata” for his alleged biased reporting at the more than 50-year-old Baguio Midland Courier regional weekly newspaper.

Laking was earlier favored by the Benguet Prosecutor William Bacoling in a resolution last year when he recommended the filing of violation of section 3(a) of Republic Act 3019 or the anti-graft practices law against the officials saying: “All the elements of graft were present which including their being public officials who acted with manifest impartiality, evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence which action caused undue injury to (Laking).”

Salda and the eight others councilors posted bail in April 2011 when a Benguet court ordered them arrested after the latter determined probable cause.

The town officials’ petition for review before the Justice department was later junked because they submitted only photocopies of the Benguet Prosecutor’s resolution which they assailed.

Entering their not guilty pleas last December, Laking through counsel Noe Villanueva of the Sanidad Law Office petitioned the court to suspend the officials to give way for an impartial adjudication of the case.

Suspension by batches

However, not to paralyze the town council and disenfranchise the public of much needed services, Judge Camacho ordered the suspension of the officials in three batches.

Councilors Botiwey, Awingan and Lee will spend their three-month suspension first, then Councilors Kipas, Ramos Jr., and Tauli next and Vice Mayor Salda, Councilors Shontogan, Adeban and Namoro last.

“Such scheme,” Judge Camacho explained, “ensures that never at any given time while the suspension s being implemented, will the Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) of La Trinidad, Benguet be deprived of quorum to conduct its official business.”

The scheme solved an earlier dilemma faced by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and also the town if all the town legislators are suspended at the same time totally paralyzing the town council.

The DILG earlier admitted it did not have any formula how to go about with the total paralysis of the council, perhaps the first “mass suspension” of officials in the Cordillera, if not for the whole country.

Veteran human rights lawyer Pablito Sanidad Sr. insists the Benguet prosecutor’s findings and the officials’ suspension “strengthens protection for media practitioners against abusive government officials.”

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 23, 2012.

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