EX-MAYOR MONTERA GOT OFF ON ONE. Leonila Paredes-Montero -- former mayor of Panglao, Bohol and now councilor – was sentenced to a maximum of 24 years in jail and ordered to refund P1.3 million paid by the town after the Sandiganbayan found her guilty of graft for hiring four persons who lost in the 2013 elections, a violation of the one-year ban.

She could’ve been meted out a longer jail term but the anti-graft court, in its October 26, 2022 ruling, said she didn’t commit the second charge of unlawfully appointing poll losers.

THE WEIRD PART. Here’s what would seem as the weird part: she used the device of hiring his political allies as job order (JO) workers, prohibited by the Civil Service Commission, to go around the ban imposed by the Constitution and the law. Because they were JOs, who are not considered employees, the hiring couldn’t be considered an appointment to an office; therefore, the Sandiganbayan ruled, she didn’t commit the crime of unlawful appointment.

Montero was found guilty of four counts of corruption for “giving unwarranted benefits” to the four election losers under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019) but not for four counts of unlawful appointment under the Revised Penal Code. The second charge fell -- all the elements of the crime were proved except one -- and only because of the job-order mechanism she used in the first crime.

ELECTION LOSERS. Montero hired them in July 2013, or two months after the elections in which she won her third term but her four allies lost. Their names:

[] Noel Hormachuelos as municipal administrator or consultant for administrative services;

[] Danilo Reyes as public information consultant;

[] Apolinar Fudalan as public employment service office coordinator/IT consultant; and

[] Fernando Penales as infrastructure engineering consultant.

Their blanket designation: “executive assistants.” In 2013, Homarchuelos, who’s now a councilor, had run as Montero’s vice mayor and the three others as councilors under the same party.

CONSTITUTION AND LAW PROHIBIT the appointment of “any candidate who has lost in any election” within one year after the said election to “any office in the government or any government-owned or -controlled corporation or in any of their subsidiaries.”

The Constitution provides no exception but the Local Government Code (RA No. 7160) exempts losers in barangay elections.

THE FOUR WERE NOT EMPLOYEES of the town, Montero argued, they were job order personnel and she picked them as “executive assistants” because they took part in discussing her programs for Panglao. She was authorized by the town council to hire them, she said.

An interesting note by the court is about “partiality, bad faith and negligence.” By themselves, they are not punishable. A public official may be guilty of those and yet not be punished. It’s only when partiality is “manifest,” bad faith is “evident,” and negligence is “gross” and “inexcusable” that the public official is deemed guilty of a crime.

And the court found all those in Montero’s hiring of the four.

‘FURTIVE DESIGN, EVIL INTENT.’ The Sandiganbayan said Montero had “the furtive design and evil intent to circumvent” the constitutional and statutory ban.

She knew, the court said, that the four poll losers would perform the duties and functions of regular public officers. They were hired as JOs and JOs were under its concept for piece work and intermittent jobs and temporary (not more than six months). But the four Montero hired did the job of town administrator, information officer, employment office coordinator, and town engineer. And they were “only JOs in name” but didn’t do the job of temporary and emergency workers, were paid a lot more (P25,000 each a month) than other JOs and weren’t paid by the day, and gave accomplishment reports only during the first year.

WHY THE ONE-YEAR BAN. As if addressing all elective appointing officials in government, not just Montero, the Sandiganbayan ruling repeated the purpose of the prohibition, namely: the “extirpation” (complete removal) of “the spoils system or the practice of hiring based on patronage and favoritism.”

High goal but at least there’s technically a respite of political patronage for one year and for poll losers.

THEY WERE ‘QUALIFIED,’ YET DISQUALIFIED. The four had the experience and expertise, Montero argued, citing their qualifications.

They might be qualified for the respective jobs but they were disqualified by the constitutional and statutory ban. Being not disqualified is part of the qualification, the ruling said.

Besides, “what cannot be legally done directly cannot be done indirectly.” That is basic and, the Sandiganbayan said, “to a reasonable mind, does not need explanation.”

CSC EXEMPTION BEING ABUSED. The Civil Service Commission (CSC) in a January 3, 2002 resolution (#02-0012) said non-winning candidates may be hired as job order workers, obviously on the basis of their being non-employees who work briefly.

However, less than four months later, on June 5 of the same year, the CSC passed another resolution (#020790) listing four groups of persons who can’t be hired even as JOs. And the four poll losers Montero hired would fall under (c) of the section on prohibitions, namely, those who are being hired to perform functions pertaining to vacant regular plantilla positions.

SAME PROBLEM IN CEBU CITY. In Cebu City, the CSC has reportedly been frequently calling out the City Government, under several administrations, regarding the practice of hiring JOs instead of filling vacant positions in the “plantilla.”

The Commission on Audit review of 2021 transactions said there were 2,320 regular positions available and the CSC had made repeated reminders and rejections on serial violations of the law and the rules. It’s not shown though if the city’s JOs, whose number has ballooned through the years, have been performing functions of regular employees.

Last August 17, the City Council approved a resolution sponsored by Councilor Rey Gealon asking the mayor to fill regular or “plantilla” positions, instead of hiring casuals. Gealon had told his colleagues the City Legal Office, which he headed before he became councilor, was swamped with CSC cases on the issue of hiring JO workers. That meant City Hall has been facing citations for violation of the CSC ruling. Only that, unlike then-mayor Montero, the city’s mayor had not tapped poll losers.

DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE. No case from Cebu that’s similar to Panglao’s has yet seized national attention. It could be because the hiring of JOs in City Hall has not been used to dodge the ban on employing poll losers.

And no case has yet reached the anti-graft court because the CSC has been generally hopeless in enforcing its rules on the employment of emergency and temporary employees.