CEBU City Mayor Tomas Osmeña yesterday fired 31 traffic enforcers accused of extorting money from motorists committing traffic violations.

It was reported that drivers had to “pay” P20 every time they would ply some major thoroughfares in the city to avoid being apprehended by the Citom personnel.

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Citom Executive Director Arnel Tancinco earlier said the reports were validated, though they did not receive a verified complaint.

Osmeña explained he doesn’t need any formal complaint to fire the enforcers.

“Under normal circumstances, you are innocent until proven guilty. Not if I hire you. I don’t have the time to go around to investigate; you just prove to me that you are innocent and if you can’t prove it, sorry, you’re fired,” Osmeña said.

The Land Transportation Office (LTO) also recalled the Temporary Operator’s Permit (TOP) it issued to five of the 31 dismissed enforcers.

They are Dexter Noval, Renato Biagtan, Renato Bacalla, Rey Cavan and Fedelito Ravanes.

“You are hereby ordered to surrender the Temporary Operator’s Permits that have been issued to you within three days upon receipt of this memorandum. Also, you are to include the apprehension report that corresponds to the issued tickets for auditing purposes,” read the memorandum signed by LTO 7 Director Raul Aguilos.

Aguilos said they want to be sure that all those issued with TOPs must use these for legal purposes.

Since the dismissal of the enforcers is happening amid the elections, the mayor admitted his decision can affect his candidacy for congressman in the city’s south district.

“I really shouldn’t be doing this, it’s not politically correct to fire people at this stage but I have to protect the integrity of the traffic enforcers and I can’t allow them to remain…the others there, I know, won’t have a problem,” Osmeña said.

The mayor considered transferring them to the Department of Public Services and making them garbage collectors.

But Osmeña said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) won’t allow him to do so, that he chose the extreme penalty to terminate the services of the enforcers.

But while City Election Officer Marchel Sarno said the City Government does not need to seek Comelec’s approval in the dismissal of the workers, Cebu City Councilor Edgardo Labella said the City Government can get a Comelec clearance so it can fire erring traffic enforcers.

He said the ban is not absolute, and if the charge against the traffic enforcers is true, it is a valid ground for them to be fired.

Labella, a former ombudsman director, heads the City Council committee on laws, ordinances, public accountability and good government.

“The ban is not absolute. Of course it is in place to prevent political harassments by incumbent officials. But if the reason has nothing to do with politics, they can be fired,”

“If it is established that they are really guilty, that constitutes misconduct and is enough ground for the Comelec to approve their firing,” he added.

He said that reassigning the enforcers also violates the Comelec guidelines, as was initially eyed by Tancinco.

Resolution 8737, promulgated last Dec. 29, sets the rules for the enforcement of the prohibition against hiring of new employees and creating or filling new positions, and granting salary increase and promotion.

It states that when the election period starts on Jan. 10, “no public official shall, except upon prior written authority of the Commission, make or cause any transfer or detail of any officer or employee in the civil service.”

They are also prohibited from suspending any elective official, unless the suspension will be for the purpose of applying the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”

At the start of the campaign period on March 26, no head or appointing officer of any national or local government office shall, except upon prior authority of the Commission, appoint or hire any new employee.

But Sarno said the City only needs to seek Comelec’s approval on March 26.

Meanwhile, the mayor expressed his disappointment with Citom board for its failure to come up with a recommendation against the traffic enforcers.

In the weekly Citom board meeting yesterday, majority of its members decided to let the mayor settle the issue and to just abide with whatever decision he would make.

This upset the mayor, who called the Citom board useless.

“They should be the one to say, ‘Fire them’ and then I say, ‘Oh, what can I do?’ Pontius Pilate na lang unta ko ba. Ako nahimong executioner, they are not even candidates, unfair kaayo na,” Osmeña said.

Citom board presiding officer and City Councilor Sylvan Jakosalem, in a text message, said he was hinting to recommend for the dismissal of the 31 traffic enforcers.

But he reasoned out that after a lengthy discussion, the board held the opinion that it would be disrespectful for them to do so.(ETB)