The Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas has ordered a six-month preventive suspension of all the village officials of Barangay Ermita in Cebu City pending an investigation on their alleged failure to cooperate in a drug raid in the area last November 2016.
Saying there is “factual and legal” bases for the suspension, Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente temporarily strip the respondents of their power and responsibilities until the administrative adjudication on the case is completed, “but not to exceed six months” and “without pay.”
To undergo preventive suspension are Ermita Barangay Captain Felicisimo Rupinta and Barangay Councilors Marky Rizaldy Miral, Antonieto Flores, Ryan Jay Rosas, Alio Tamundo, Domingo Ando, Maria Buanghug and Wilbert Flores.
The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) was directed by the anti-graft office to implement the order.
“As the top barangay officials in Ermita, the continued stay by any of the respondents in office may prejudice the case filed against them,” said Clemente in his order dated Jan. 16 but released to the media only yesterday.
Clemente said the suspension would ensure that the barangay officials would not use their positions, powers and prerogatives to influence potential witnesses or tamper with official records, which may be vital in the prosecution of the case against them.
“There exists the possibility of an unhampered access and undue influence by respondents to any potential witness to the case by virtue of their respective positions and their proximity to the area where the anti-drug operation conducted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) took place,” he said.
The order arose from the administrative case for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service filed by PDEA-7 Director Yogi Filemon Ruiz.
Ruiz alleged the respondents did not cooperate with PDEA-7 officers during the drug operation conducted on Nov. 6, 2016 in a “shabu tiangge” located just 500 meters from the Ermita Barangay Hall.
The raid yielded P800,000 worth of suspected shabu as well as the arrest of Richard “Tata” Cañete, the alleged operator of the “shabu tiangge.”
DILG-Central Visayas Director Rene Burdeos yesterday said he sent the anti-graft office’s order to his central office in Manila for a clearance to implement the order.
Since all barangay officials of Ermita were ordered suspended, he said the DILG will discuss with the Visayas Ombudsman how it can be implemented without creating a vacuum in the barangay council.
“We have lots of option for now. We can suspend all the respondents together or it can be implemented by batches,” said Burdeos in an interview.
He said the DILG secretary, once authorized by the President, can also appoint acting barangay officials in “caretaker capacity.”
Rupinta, reached for comment, described as “unfair and unjust” the preventive suspension order.
He said they did not receive a copy of the complaint filed by Ruiz and were not given by the anti-graft office the opportunity to answer the accusations against them.
“Wala gyud mi gitagaan og due process. Wala mi nakatubag sa mga akusasyon. Ang complaint ra gyud sa PDEA ang ilang gibasehan sa order (We were not given due process. We were not afforded the chance to answer the accusations. The Ombudsman merely based the order on the complaint filed by PDEA),” Rupinta told Cebu Daily News over the phone.
The barangay captain said he was surprised when he received the anti-graft office’s order against him and the other respondents on Wednesday.
He question the speed with which the order was released, considering that the complaint was only filed last November.
Rupinta said they intend to ask the anti-graft office to reconsider its decision. If the request is denied, he said they will ask the Court of Appeals to intervene and to issue a restraining order to stop the implementation of the preventive suspension order against them.
Rupinta said he went to the DILG-7 office on Thursday to seek an advice on what to do, considering that all barangay officials of Ermita were ordered suspended by the Ombudsman.
“Unsa man ang mahitabo sa among barangay? Kon i-implement gyud na nila, kinsa na man lang ang mo-atiman sa barangay? Kinsa man ang mokuha sa basura? Kinsa man ang mosweldo sa mga empleyado? Kinsa man ang motudlo sa ipuli namo?” he asked.
(What will happen to our barangay? If the preventive suspension order against us will be implemented, who will take care of our barangay? Who will collect the garbage? Who will give the salaries of our employees? Who will appoint the persons who will take over our positions?)
He appealed to the Ombudsman and the DILG not to implement the preventive suspension against them yet.
“Ayaw usa na i-implement. Due process man kaha ta? (Do not implement that order yet. We have a due process to follow),” he said.
Lawyer Ma. Corazon Naraja, spokesperson of the anti-graft office based in Cebu City, said the Ombudsman can issue a preventive suspension order after evaluating the complaint.
“Upon the receipt of the complaint, if the evidence of guilt is strong, the Ombudsman can issue a preventive suspension order,” she told CDN.
She cited a provision under the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman which states that “the respondent may be preventively suspended without pay if, in the judgment of the Ombudsman or his proper deputy, the evidence of guilt is strong and the charge against such officer or employee involves dishonesty, oppression or gross misconduct, or gross neglect in the performance of duty.”
The anti-graft office can also issue a preventive suspension order if “the charge would warrant removal from the service; or if the respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the just, fair and independent disposition of the case filed against him.”
The respondents, she said, will be given the chance to submit their counter-affidavits and refute the allegations as the investigation goes on.
Clemente, in his order, noted that PDEA-7 clearly coordinated with the barangay officials of Ermita in conducting an anti-drugs operation last Nov. 6 and even waited for two hours after the drug bust, but not a single official came.
Clemente said the Ermita barangay officials also “failed or neglected to detect, investigate, suppress, or act on the illegal drugs trade operating within 500 meters from the Barangay Hall.”
“There is, therefore, a preliminary showing that respondent barangay officials were willfully indifferent to the illegal drug trade operating within their own area of responsibility, palpably disregarding and flagrantly breaching their down duty as law enforcement agents to enforce the anti-drug laws in their area of responsibility,” he said.
Ruiz, in his complaint, claimed they contacted the barangay officials, but they refused to heed their request for the presence of the barangay captain and a barangay councilor to witness the search and inventory and to help them implement the search warrant against Cañete and Josephine Cuyno.
Citing Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Ruiz said barangay leaders play a key role in the criminal prosecution against illegal drug peddlers and that it is the duty of these officers to act as witnesses during conduct of physical inventory in anti-drug operations.
“This serves as a lesson and a warning to government officials who refuse to cooperate in our anti-illegal drugs operations,” Clemente said yesterday.
Wake up call
Ruiz also stressed that his decision to lodge a complaint against Ermita’s village officials should not be given a political color.
“I am not a politician. I am just doing what I am supposed to do as an enforcer of our laws,” Ruiz said.
He noted that barangay officials should be the ones giving law enforcers information that could lead to the arrest of drug pushers in the villages, but this seldom happened.
“I am not saying I am happy with the suspension of Ermita officials. But this should serve as a wake up call for barangay officials to do their job and help us end the drug problem in our country,” he added.
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