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Ombudsman suspends Nueva Ecija governor

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Ombudsman suspends Nueva Ecija governor
The order was signed by Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval on behalf of Ombudsman Samuel Martires.
Office of the Ombudsman Philippines / Facebook page

Amid probe on issuance of 205 illegal quarry permits

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the preventive suspension of Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali amid its investigation of the administrative cases filed against him in connection with the alleged illegal issuance of 205 permits for sand and gravel extraction in the province.

In a five-page order dated May 10 obtained by reporters yesterday, the ombudsman said Umali’s suspension was necessary, saying there is “strong evidence showing his guilt.”

The order was signed by Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval on behalf of Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

It said Umali’s suspension without pay shall not exceed six months, but may be lifted once the investigation is terminated.

The office of Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos was directed to implement the suspension order.

The ombudsman said Umali’s suspension is “immediately executory.”

Records from the Court of Appeals (CA) showed that Umali has a pending petition for temporary restraining order and certiorari assailing the validity of the suspension order.

In a resolution promulgated on May 22, the CA’s 11th Division deferred giving “due course” to Umali’s petition and instead directed the ombudsman to file its comment on his petition.

The ombudsman said Umali’s suspension was necessary “to avoid his commission of further malfeasance or misfeasance in office.”

Umali, his wife Czarina, a former governor of Nueva Ecija, and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office officer Wilfredo Pangilinan are facing charges for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The charges stemmed from a complaint filed by a certain Roberto Duldulao.

The ombudsman cited a report of the House committee on good government and public accountability on hearings on quarrying operations in Nueva Ecija, which bared that the provincial government issued the quarry permits without environmental compliance certificates from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The committee report said the respondents merely required the submission of a local environment clearance certificate.

The ombudsman said the act of the respondents was a “clear circumvention” of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act.

Poll protest vs Bacolod mayor junked

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections has affirmed the decision of the Comelec Second Division dismissing the petition for recount of votes in the mayoral elections in Bacolod in 2022 and the nullification of the proclamation of Mayor Alfredo Abelardo Benitez.

The Comelec said the petition filed by former mayor Evelio Leonardia was “insufficient in form and content.”

“The protestant neither raised grounds nor presented new matters or issues that would merit the overruling of the order of the Comelec Second Division,” the resolution dated April 23 read.

Leonardia sought a manual recount of votes in 450 clustered precincts in the city and asked the Comelec to declare a failure of elections, claiming massive vote-buying and fake voters.

However, the Comelec said Leonardia’s allegations were “too broad, too general and highly speculative.”

“The belief or suspicion of the protestant that the elections were irregularly conducted, but without substantiating the same with a proof, is simply not enough to overcome the presumptive regularity of the automated elections, ” it added. — Gilbert Bayoran

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