AN ANTI-corruption group urged the Office of the Ombudsman to place Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino under preventive suspension following the filing of the plunder charges against him.

The call was made by the Pasay City-based Center for Anti-Graft and Corruption Prevention Inc. (The Center), saying that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez should immediately suspend Tolentino from his post.

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The Center's secretary-general Lane Afable said the gravity of charges against the MMDA chair has built a sufficient basis to trigger the Ombudsman to conduct instant evaluation to either put the latter under preventive suspension immediately.

Afable said it is a requirement of law for the Ombudsman to issue a preventive suspension pending investigation to protect public interest and the interest of the state.

To buttress his group's position, Afable cited Section 24 of Republic Act 6770, otherwise known as The Ombudsman Act of 1989, that "expressly provides preventive suspension of a public officer or employee pending investigation when the presence of two conditions.

It include the evidence of guilt is strong, and that either of the following circumstances co-exists with the first requirement -- the charge involves dishonesty, oppression or grave misconduct or (gross) neglect in the performance of duty, the charge would warrant removal from the service, the respondent's continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him or her.

Afable said Gutierrez would commit another worst injustice if she won't exercise careful judgment to suspend the MMDA chair.

"And we fervently urge that Ombudsman Gutierrez acts with speed in determining the issuance of a preventive suspension against Chairman Tolentino pending investigation to make sure justice is rendered with absolute fairness instantly."

The Center official noted that he found it completely awkward to see a top Cabinet official of the Aquino administration charged of plunder, money laundering, and other serious graft charges at the Office of the Ombudsman while the President himself fervently wages war against it.

"Chairman Tolentino's situation is fast becoming an ugly irony that is feared to hurt the integrity of President Aquino and his administration, thus, it is crucial for the MMDA chair to consider many things even taking a supreme sacrifice by resigning," he added.

Tolentino defended himself from the charges saying it smacked of "harassment" by his political rivals in Tagaytay where he served as mayor from 1994 to 2004.

The current Tagaytay mayor, Abraham Tolentino, is a brother of the MMDA chairman.

"Lahat ito ay pulitika kasi noong ako ay nanunungkulan wala akong kaso, ngayon lang ako nagkakaso ngayong nasa MMDA na ako," Tolentino said.

Tolentino is charged for allegedly amassing some P500 million in ill-gotten wealth in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The case was filed by former Tagaytay vice mayoralty candidate Pastor Ronald Tan who alleged that when Tolentino became mayor in 1994, the only recorded real estate belonging to him and his family was their ancestral home located in the city's Barangay Tolentino West.

Today, the complainant said, the list of the family's lands in Tagaytay included the Cockpit Arena, Frablyn Towers, Star Ridge Plaza, Windy Ridge Hotel, Airborne Building, New Orleans Hotel, and Overlook Inn.

Tan also accuses the MMDA chief and his brother, current Tagaytay mayor Abraham Tolentino of misrepresenting the real financial condition of the city.

Traffic consultant appointment

The MMDA chief also defended his move in naming a losing mayoral candidate as consultant of the agency amid prohibition of appointment of defeated bets one year after the election.

Tolentino said the appointment of Roberto "Bobby" Esquivel as consultant of the Traffic and Transport Management Office (TTMO) was only on a temporary basis to assist him in formulating traffic plans for the metropolis.

"Ang appointment sa kanya ay ad hoc basis o temporary lamang to address traffic concerns. In the long run, we will be putting the right person who will man our traffic unit and that person is very credible," he explained.

"Mag-aadvice lang siya at hindi magpapatupad o magmamando sa mga traffic enforcers. Si Noemi Recio naman talaga ang in-charge sa traffic at consultant lamang si Mr. Esquivel," he added.

But the MMDA chief admitted that Esquivel has worked with the local government of Tagaytay in dealing with garbage problem.

"Di ko siya ganun kalapit na kaibigan pero alam ko tumulong sya sa Tagaytay sa problema nun sa basura pero hindi na ako ang mayor dun," Tolentino said of Esquivel.

Esquivel's appointment was met with skepticism by some agency officials and employees who said he should not have been named as TTMO consultant since he is covered by the one year election ban.

The head of the TTMO, Executive Director Angelito Vergel De Dios, was "axed" by Tolentino from his post pending the result of an investigation into whether he is into the "payola" racket. (AH/Sunnex)