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Rama’s admin case spat on venue cancels hearing

Jean Marvette A. Demecillo/RHM (The Freeman) - February 1, 2016 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Hearing of the administrative complaint filed by Labangon Barangay Captain Victor Buendia against now preventively suspended Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama did not push through yesterday after “miscommunication” left the two parties going to different venues.

The hearing would resume at 1 p.m. today with Department of Interior and Local Government hearing officer Isidro Barrios III saying it is clear where the venue would be.

“Just for tomorrow (February 2), we will have the hearing at the SP (Sangguniang Panlungsod) Caucus room at 1 p.m. while we will look for a suitable venue,” he said.

Rama was placed under a 60-day preventive suspension over the case, which Buendia filed after the mayor ordered the demolition of a road median structure in Labangon.

Rama is expected to resume office on February 9, if there would be no other suspension orders served on him by the national office.

Yesterday’s hearing was suspended after Buendia and his lawyers “failed to appear.”

“Considering the absence of the complainant and his counsel, I will forgo the release of the pre-trial order,” Barrios said at the conference room of the office of Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella, who is currently the acting mayor of the city.

Barrios said there was miscommunication between the two parties as to the hearing venue.

To recall, Rama’s lawyers asked to transfer the venue out of the DILG regional office after DILG-7 legal officer Aiza Fiel A. Arcenal-Nogra was seen discussing the case with Buendia’s counsels.

Acting on the request, Nogra, Barrios said, told him that DILG-Cebu City Director Danilo Almendras advised to have it done at the Vice Mayor’s Office, which is at the ground floor of the city’s Legislative Building.

Almendras allegedly asked Labella where the hearing could be held after lawyer Benjamin Militar, a counsel of Buendia, agreed to have it at City Hall. Labella reportedly offered to have it at the conference room of his original office.

At 2 p.m. yesterday, Rama’s lawyers, including Attys. Jerone Castillo, Mikel Rama, and Floro Casas, Jr., arrived at the Vice Mayor’s Office.

Atty. Reymelio Delute, one of Buendia’s legal counsels, was also there that time, but he left allegedly after being called by his co-counsels.

 “There seems to be a problem on the venue. The counsels of the complainant said they are not comfortable with this (Vice Mayor’s Office conference room) venue, being the office of the vice mayor, allegedly for possible conflict,” Barrios said.  Labella and Rama are political allies.

Militar and other counsels of Buendia did not like the venue, especially since Castillo and Casas are among the lawyers under Labella’s private law firm.

Militar also said he was not informed that the venue was scheduled at the Vice Mayor’s Office.  Buendia and his lawyers were instead at the City Council Caucus Room yesterday.

“They are insisting on neutrality. How can that be neutral? Why should we go there? Balik nalang ta sa DILG,” Militar told Barrios, who went to the caucus room, which is at the fourth floor of the Legislative Building, from the Office of the Vice Mayor at the ground floor.

Sought for comment on Militar’s allegation, Castillo said the Office of the Vice Mayor is just a “structure.”

“This is just a structure. Nobody listens here. This has been the venue for several meetings whether naay political affiliation or not. We are having a solemn proceeding. This is a trial type. What is the problem? I see no problem. It is not us who suggested for this place. It was even the counsel of the complainant. We abided by the order given to us by DILG,” Castillo said.

“We also make it on record that about 2 o’clock, Atty Delute already appeared before this office, only (for us) to find out that he went out and did not return because he was called by his co-counsels. We are not aware of the reasons why we are not having the hearing today,” Castillo added.

With this, Barrios suspended the hearing yesterday. He, however, told reporters that he would “try” to finish the formal investigation on or before February 9, which is the day before the ban on the suspension of elected officials.

“We will try. By tomorrow, we will start the formal investigation; after which, okay pa naman hanggang February 9,” he said.  (FREEMAN)

ACIRC BUENDIA HEARING LEGISLATIVE BUILDING MAYOR OFFICE OFFICE OF THE VICE MAYOR RAMA VENUE VICE VICE MAYOR
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