Ombud clears Puentevella, Villamor from criminal liability

THE Office of the Ombudsman has cleared Bacolod City Mayor Monico Puentevella and lawyers Rolando and Sarah Villamor from criminal liability in the complaint for conflict of interest filed against them by former Secretary to the Mayor Moises de la Cruz.

The complaint for violation of Section 3 (a) and (e) of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act stemmed from the private practice of Rolando Villamor while he was serving as city administrator of Bacolod. His daughter Sarah was then city legal officer.

Although the criminal complaint against the elder Villamor was dismissed, the Ombudsman had earlier found him administratively liable for the same offense.

He was ordered suspended without pay for six months and one day after he was found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for appearing as counsel for Galeno Construction Inc. (Galecon Inc.) in a civil case filed against the city government.

However, Villamor pre-empted his suspension by filing a certificate of candidacy for congressman days before the order came out. With his candidacy, he is deemed resigned from his post as city administrator.

In the criminal complaint, De la Cruz included Puentevella’s Memorandum No. 060-10-13A that granted Villamor’s request for authority to engage in private practice.

However, Puentevella stated in his counter-affidavit that as city mayor, he is allowed to authorize a subordinate to practice his profession as long as the same will not conflict or tend to conflict with the latter’s official functions, and that “the issuance of an authority to practice per se is not in violation of any law.”

The resolution, penned by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Maria Corazon Vergara-Maraja and approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio- Morales, stated that Puentevella’s act of authorizing Villamor to engage in private practice “is an exercise of his prerogative as head of office.”

Such motion is likewise detailed in the Omnibus Rules on Appointment and Other Personnel Action of the Civil Service Commission where an officer or employee may be allowed to engage in private business or profession as long as he has the written permission from the head of the agency, it added.

It further stated that Puentevella had no knowledge prior to the grant of authority to practice that the city administrator would appear for the plaintiff Galecon Inc. in a case adverse to the city government.

“There is, therefore no basis for the Office to conclude that he allowed himself to be persuaded, induced or influenced to commit a violation of offense,” the resolution read.

It also “finds no basis to hail them (respondents) to court for the commission of a crime” and that De la Cruz “failed to allege any specific act on their part that may be considered a violation of R.A. 3019.”

The elder Villamor said the dismissal is a vindication on their part.

He added that he expected the Ombudsman will dismiss the criminal case as engaging in private practice is within the bounds of the law.

Meanwhile, De la Cruz said “the criminal liability is not that important.”

“I had already delivered to Atty. Villamor the right message,” he added.

De la Cruz said “it is enough and more than satisfactory that the Ombudsman had meted the administrative penalty of suspension for violation of conflict of interest against” Villamor.

“(Although) he has pre-empted his six-month suspension by his resignation, he cannot however escape the equivalent penalty of fine corresponding to his six months salary chargeable against his monetary benefits with the government,” De la Cruz said, citing the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292.*
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