Ombudsman suspends Sibonga mayor

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Carine M. Asutilla August 22,2014 - 07:46 AM

For closing down two government-owned tennis courts last year without the Sibonga municipal council’s approval, the Ombudsman for the Visayas has ordered the suspension of Sibonga Mayor Lionel Bacaltos after he was found guilty of simple misconduct.

His suspension will last for three months.

He was first charged with grave abuse of authority before the Ombudsman but the case was later downgraded.

The Department of Interior and Local Government will implement the sanction.

The mayor “exceeded his authority” when he “whimsically” closed down for three months a public facility in June 2013 without any legal basis, the Ombudsman said.

Public property

Since the tennis courts are part of the town’s public plaza, it was deemed public property.

The decision penned by graft investigation and prosecution officer Maria Corazon Vergara-Naraja was approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales last Aug. 8, 2014.

The mayor said he was surprised to learn about the ruling from a friend.

He said he was expecting the case to be dismissed. He plans to file a motion for reconsideration after consulting his lawyer, Julius Ceasar Entise.

Politically-motivated

Bacaltos, 50, is a member of the Alayon party of former congressman Eduardo Gullas and is on his seventh year as mayor of Sibonga.

“Tennis club members had exclusive use of the tennis courts. And I can present witnesses to prove my claim. I did not commit any mistake in closing down the tennis courts. The complaint filed against me was politically motivated,” said Bacaltos.

Seven residents filed the administrative complaint after the mayor ordered the tennis court closed. They included his former election rival Nestor Ponce, Tito Satera, Fabian Jose Teves, George Chan, Irvin Rizon, Gerson Chan and Aurelio Amores.

There was no ordinance or written notice from the municipal council for the closure.

Under section 21 of the Local Government Code of 1991, “a local government unit may, pursuant to an ordinance, permanently or temporarily close or open any local road, alley, park, or square falling within its jurisdiction.”

The net in the tennis court, which was donated by private donors was also removed.

The complainants said they asked the mayor to reopen the tennis court and the mayor agreed on the condition that the tennis club shall be manned only by his allies.

The mayor then appointed a new club president and vice president.

Complaints

In his counter-affidavit, Bacaltos admitted ordering the closure of the town’s tennis court.

He said he had received complaints that tennis club members used the facility exclusively for themselves.

The mayor said he decided to close it while preparing a program for its proper use.

The anti-graft office didn’t accept his claims and said the mayor failed to submit evidence to prove that he had received complaints about the exclusive use of the tennis court by club members.

Copies of the Ombudsman’s decision were sent to DILG-7, the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit.

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