ILIGAN CITY -- The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) declared on Saturday vacancy in the City Council after it served the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman suspending 13 members of the Council, including Vice Mayor Jemar Vera Cruz.
According to DILG Iligan Chief Foster Anayron, there is no law saying an acting vice mayor shall sit if the elected vice mayor is suspended.
“We cannot say nga dunay acting sa office ni Vice Mayor (Vera Cruz) in as much as we have no legal basis on that matter. Wala man tay balaod nga nag-ingon nga they will automatically take over the position ni Vice Mayor,” Anayron said in an interview with the media.
The DILG served the decision right after the city council adjourned their first regular session of the year that discussed the resolution that declares five barangays in Iligan under state of calamity after tropical storm Vinta hit Northern Mindanao last December 22, causing damages especially to the water system of Iligan.
However, the resolution failed as it lacks disaster assessment and report from the DILG which supposedly will be the basis of the declaration.
The local legislators were meted suspension for a month and a day, without pay, in connection to the complaint of Jose Buot for simple misconduct when it recognized Mayor Celso Regencia even that he’s in jail.
Regencia, according to Buot, is legally incapacitated citing the case of Mayor Vicente Fernandez of Matanao, Davao del Sur and cannot transact any business and sign documents in behalf of the city government and or appoint employees while in jail and therefore should not be recognized by the council.
Regencia was jailed after he was accused of masterminding the ambush of former Iligan City Representative Vicente Belmonte, Jr. in 2014.
He went into hiding but surrendered in 2016 to file his certificate of candidacy for reelection.
Belmonte and former Vice Mayor Rudy Marzo filed an administrative case against Regencia for Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, Dishonesty and Grave Misconduct.
Belmonte and Marzo complained that Regencia is legally incapacitated to function as mayor because he was in jail.
However, Anayron said, if the Court of Appeals will grant the temporary suspension order (TRO) the suspension will be lifted immediately.
Vera Cruz’s camp applied for a TRO last December when they received their advance copy of the suspension but was not yet acted upon because the judges were still on holiday vacation.
Suspended councilors include Samuel Huertas, Eric Capitan, Jake Balanay, Demosthenes Plando, Belinda Lim, Sorilie Christine Bacsarpa, Ian Uy, Ryan Ong, Bernard Pacana, Petronilo Pardillo, Renato Ancis and Rolando So-ong.
With their suspension, only councilors Queenie Belmonte and Cesarve Siacor are left to man the city council.
Queenie is the daughter of Vicente.
The younger Belmonte, in a statement sent to the media, said she had not received yet any advice from the DILG to fill up the vacant position and if ever, she has no desire to sit as acting vice mayor.
“If ever the law of succession will apply in this case, I will decline to sit as Acting Vice Mayor. Maybe they can ask Councilor Siacor. But then again, it is the DILG who knows what rules to apply and how to fill in the vacancy in the Sanggunian without affecting the services we give to the public,” Councilor Belmonte said.
She expresses her sentiment on the suspension of her colleagues.
“It is very unfortunate to hear about the suspension of my colleagues in the august body. This is precisely the very thing I have warned them during the second regular session last year that we have to be careful with our actions because as councilors we are bound by the rule of law,” Belmonte said.
It can be recalled that on the second regular session of city council in 2016, Belmonte warned her fellow councilors in giving authority to Mayor Regencia, who is legally incapacitated at that time being in jail.
The councilors argued that the case against the elected mayor has yet been decided by the court nor arraigned.
Eventually, Regencia was freed after the Department of Justice reversed its previous resolution on the multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder cases against him and directed the Quezon City Prosecutor to withdraw the information of the said cases filed in their court.
The DOJ said it finds the principal witness extra—judicial confession inadmissible as evidence.
Regencia and the suspended councilors, including Vera Cruz are team mates in the last election with Belmonte and Marzo as their opponents.
In his message to their supporters who gathered in front of the legislative building, the city mayor blamed Vicente Belmonte and Marzo for causing the suspension.
But Councilor Belmonte said the mistake should not be blamed to the previous officials because it was “a mistake they themselves made”.
“Why blame the opposition when it was them who violated a law? Dili man si Varf, dili man si Marzo ang nag authorize og usa ka legally incapacitated nga tawo,” the councilor Belmonte said in a phone interview.
Last year, now incumbent Iligan City Congressman Frederick Siao, former City Mayor Lawrence Cruz and Marzo were also meted with a perpetual disqualification for a different case filed by Regencia’s chief of staff.
“But I do not remember these honorable men blamed the opposition for the court’s decision. It is just so sad that the local politics has come to this. Always blame the opposition. I fear that this incident gives them a good alibi for future mistakes or misdeeds, because anyway we can always pass the blame to the opposition,” the younger Belmonte said.
For his part, Vera Cruz said they accepted the decision because they would like to follow the rule of law.
With the operations in the legislative department of the local government now hampered and paralyzed, Vera Cruz said he’s somewhat glad that he can take a late ‘Christmas’ break and visit his family.
On the other hand, Vera Cruz said he’s particularly sad on the pending items from the office of the city mayor that need authorization from the City Council.
“The works to be done will be stalled, the implementation of some projects might stop because there is no authority coming from the SP (Council),” Vera Cruz said.
Mayor Regencia meanwhile said he feels for the suspended officials who recognized him as the elected mayor in Iligan City.
He said he requested the DILG to delay the service of the suspension because Iligan City is still reeling from calamity last December.
“Ako mismo gisakitan kaayo kay dili ko makalihok kung wala kining mga tawhana,” Regencia said referring to the suspended officials.