Comelec defers suspension of Cebu City execs
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday decided to defer acting on a request for authority to suspend Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and several councilors until after the May 9 polls.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the commission unanimously voted yesterday to “defer action” on the request of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for approval to suspend the officials.

The DILG sought exemption from the Comelec policy that prohibits the suspension of elective officials during the election period, which runs from Jan. 10 to June 8.

“We will not be issuing any exemption from the non-suspension order rule before May 9. Status quo should as much as possible be preserved before the elections to avoid allegations of political partisanship,” said Bautista.

Rama is running for city mayor opposite Tomas Osmeña, an ally of the Liberal Party.

Bautista explained that the Comelec issued a ruling on March 29 to ban any suspension within the campaign period.

“So there is really a preference for the status quo since the only exception provided for in the law is if it’s a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” Bautista added.

In a separate chance interview, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said they agreed to adopt the March 29 resolution to avoid accusation that the poll body has “favoritism.”

“We will deliberate on all suspension orders on May 10 or after the elections. So this (Cebu) case was neither denied nor granted. What is important now are those requests coming from local government units that were affected by calamity, disaster and even El Niño,” Guanzon said.

The March 29 Minute Resolution said the authority of the Comelec to grant requests to implement orders of suspension as a penalty or preventive suspension “carries with it the authority to deny the same, subject to the consideration that the request shall not, in any manner, influence the conduct or the results of the elections.” 

It added that it is the Comelec’s duty to ensure that penal or preventive orders of suspension “shall not be used, in any manner, to influence the conduct or results of the elections, particularly where those involved are themselves candidates” in the coming polls.

Rama said “justice has been served” on him and 13 other Cebu City officials over the calamity aid.

“Praise the lord alleluia! Justice has been served because this is not normal. It was amazing,” Rama said.

The Office of the President wanted to suspend the 14 local officials for releasing P20,000 in calamity aid to each of the 4,200 employees of City Hall even if they were not directly affected by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella said that all of the officials found guilty of “grave abuse of authority” by the Palace are happy with the resolution of Comelec.

“Of course, we are happy. That would spare us from the humiliation of being suspended for an alleged infraction that we never committed,” Labella, a former ombudsman director, said.

He added that he is also glad that the Comelec has lived up to its expectation of being independent and has insulated itself from the “influence of a political party.”

Councilor Margarita Osmeña, who was not among those to be suspended and would have become the acting mayor if the suspension pushed through, said she has not thought of the suspension.

Osmeña is the wife of Rama’s rival for the city’s top post. – With Jean Marvette Demecillo, The Freeman

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