IN what can be considered as Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente’s boldest and “swiftest” move since he assumed his post, the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas ordered the six-month preventive suspension of Ermita Barangay Captain Felicisimo Rupinta and seven barangay councilors while they are investigated for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The case stemmed from the supposed failure of the barangay officials to answer a request for a witness to the service of two search warrants by elements of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) 7 led by its director Yogi Filemon Ruiz.

Clemente, in his order, said that “there is a preliminary showing that respondent barangay officials were willfully indifferent to the illegal drug trade operating within 500 meters from the barangay hall.” But Rupinta claimed that the order came out even without the anti-graft office getting their side, which puts Clemente’s “preliminary showing” phrase in a different light. It considered only one side.

The Office of the Ombudsman is not known for the speed with which it conducts investigations or resolves cases. This could partly be attributed to the number of complaints the anti-graft office is responding to daily and to the supposed care with which graft investigators gather pieces of evidence against erring officials. That’s why the way the case against the Ermita officials is handled is interesting.

There is actually a reason people are suspicious of some Ermita barangay officials considering the proliferation of the illegal drug trade in the area. This can explain the aggressiveness with which the PDEA 7 went after them after the Nov. 6 operation. But considering the anti-graft office’s action, there is also reason for Rupinta, et al to feel they are being singled out and for them to claim their suspension is politically motivated. The officials are allied with the opposition Team Rama.

The case, though, is far from being resolved. The hope is that the anti-graft office would be more conscientious in tackling the case in the coming days to give a lie to the claim that the order to suspend the Ermita barangay officials was politically motivated.