Rama, 7 others ‘preventively suspended’

Not aware. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, in a phone interview on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, said he had no idea about the order for his preventive suspension. / SUNSTAR FILE
Not aware. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, in a phone interview on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, said he had no idea about the order for his preventive suspension. / SUNSTAR FILE

THE Office of the Ombudsman has issued a preventive suspension order for six months against Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and seven others for allegedly withholding the salaries of some City Hall employees.

This came after complainants Filomena Atuel, Maria Almicar Diongzon, Sybil Ann Ybañez and Chito dela Cerna filed criminal and administrative complaints against the respondents on Feb. 23, 2024 for alleged violations of Section 3(e) and (1) of Republic Act 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as well as for grave misconduct, conduct unbecoming of a public officer, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, grave abuse of authority (oppression) and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

In a 10-page resolution issued on May 2 and signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, the anti-graft office found sufficient grounds to grant the complainants’ prayer for the issuance of a preventive suspension order against the city officials.

It said that even if the respondents file motions, appeals, or petitions seeking relief, the order’s implementation cannot be stopped unless directed otherwise by the Ombudsman or a court of competent jurisdiction.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government has been tasked to implement the order, which is “immediately executory.”

A preventive suspension prevents respondents from influencing the potential witnesses against them. It also preserves the safety and integrity of the records and other evidence related to the case.

No idea

In a phone interview on Wednesday, May 8, Rama said he was not aware of the prevention suspension.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Rama said he did not receive a copy of any complaint, adding that his lawyers will handle the matter.

The Ombudsman also suspended City Administrator Collin Rosell, his wife Office of the City Assessor officer-in-charge Dr. Maria Theresa Rosell, Francis May Jacaban of the City Legal Office (CLO), assistant department head for operations Angelique Cabugao, admin division head Jay-ar Pescante, assessment of records management division head Lester Joey Beniga and computer division head Nelyn Sanrojo.

Reassignments

The complaint stemmed from the reassignments of the four complainants, who worked as tax mappers at the assessor’s office.

When they were reassigned to different offices on May 17 and 18, 2023, they deemed the move illegal and in violation of the 2016 Omnibus Rules on Appointments and Other Human Resource Actions.

Atuel was reassigned to the Cebu City Anti-Mendicancy Office, Diongzon to the Office of the City South Road Properties Management Office, Ybañez to the Cebu City Operation Second Chance and Dela Cerna to the Cebu City Environment and Natural and Resources Office.

On June 16 and 19, 2023, the complainants appealed to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) 7.

They also reported back to the assessor’s office on June 19. But upon their return, they were forced to share a single table and were not given any specific task.

Atuel, Diongzon, Ybañez and Dela Cerna received a favorable decision from the CSC 7 on Oct. 12 and Oct. 17.

In his 12-page decision, CSC 7 Director Carlos Evangelista declared their reassignment “invalid.”

On Nov. 3, Ybañez said the mayor’s office, through the CLO, filed a motion for reconsideration before the CSC 7, which the latter denied.

The CLO then filed a petition for review of the CSC 7’s decision before the CSC central office last Jan. 8.

Unpaid

City Councilor Nestor Archival passed a resolution on Jan. 24, urging the mayor to release their unpaid wages. At that point, Atuel, Diongzon, Ybañez and Dela Cerna had not received their salaries since last July.

In an interview with the members of the media on Wednesday, Ybañez admitted they had mixed feelings when they found out about the preventive suspension order, knowing that their appeal had been heard.

She said they already received four months of salary and are waiting for six more months of salary.

Diongzon, for her part, said this is the first time in her 35 years of public service to be involved in a legal conflict with city officials.

She said they were fighting to receive their salaries.

However, Ybañez, Diongzon and Dela Cerna were disheartened that the mayor was included in the order, saying their battle was against the city assessor and other personnel in the assessor’s office.

Dela Cerna clarified that they did not include Rama in their complaint, but since he was the one who signed their reassignments, he became involved.

This would not be the mayor’s first preventive suspension.

In December 2015, the Office of the President, which was then under President Benigno Aquino III, placed Rama under preventive suspension for 60 days after then Labangon barangay captain Victor Buendia accused him of unlawful demolition of a center island in the barangay.

The mayor was charged with culpable violation of the Constitution, grave abuse of authority, grave misconduct and oppression.

Rama was again placed under preventive suspension for 60 days in April 2016 along with then vice mayor Edgardo Labella and 12 councilors for granting P20,000 in cash aid to City Hall personnel. / AML WITH REPORTS FROM JJL

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