PB committee output: 14 percent

Michael Vencynth H. Braga/RHM (The Freeman) - February 9, 2016 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines - The Cebu Provincial Board’s Committee on Complaints and Investigation has resolved only five cases since its members assumed their functions in 2013, resulting to around 30 administrative cases that are yet to be resolved as of yesterday.

Of the resolved cases, four were dismissed due to “lack of substantial evidence” and one came with a guilty verdict.

In a copy of the resolutions obtained by The FREEMAN, all of the five cases were given judgment around one to two years from the time they were lodged before the PB.

The dismissed cases were filed by Carcar City councilor Archiles Gantuangco against mayor Nicepuro Apura, a certain Irwin Castillo versus Sogod Mayor Lissa Marie Streegan, Compostela councilor Mario Paradiang versus councilor Tessa Cang, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources versus Sibonga councilor Marie Jojie Chan.

The only case which was not dismissed was the grave abuse of authority case filed by Dumanjug Vice Mayor Efren Guntrano Gica against Mayor Nelson Gamaliel Garcia, in which the latter was found guilty and sentenced with a six-month suspension.

The complaint came on the heels of Garcia’s “appointment” of a secretary to the municipal council—a power that lies with the vice mayor. Garcia had argued that he only “designated” and not “appointed” a secretary.

The complaint, which was lodged on September 16, 2013 and resolved on March 16, 2015, was the first case dealt with by the PB’s investigating committee.

Garcia had been crying foul over the “obscene bias and partiality” of the investigating committee for failing to act upon the other cases while expediting the one filed against him.

This sentiment prompted him to withdraw the administrative complaints he filed against Gica because he “could not obtain justice and fair play” from the committee whose members are Gica’s Liberal Party allies.

Streegan, Apura, and Chan, who were parties of the dismissed cases, belong to Barug Alang sa Kauswagan ug Demokrasya, Alayon Party, and Liberal Party, respectively. All are coalesced parties.

But Board Member Grecilda Sanchez, who sits as chairperson of the investigating committee, belied allegations of partiality, saying all cases were given equal weight regardless of the political affiliation of the parties involved.

It was just that Garcia’s case came first, she said.

She explained that the act committed by Garcia was a “very clear” violation of the law which merited a penalty of suspension.

Based on the records from the Committee on Complaints and Investigation, the PB is still burdened with 30 administrative complaints that have yet to be disposed, some of them filed in 2014 but are still in the preliminary conference stage.

Right now, however, the PB temporarily deferred action on the pending cases because of the 90-day ban on administrative disciplinary proceedings against elected local officials, which started yesterday.

Section 62 of the Local Government Code of 1991 prohibits the conduct of investigation into any administrative complaints within 90 days immediately prior to any local election, which is on May 9 this year.

Commission on Elections Resolution No. 10030, which sets the implementing rules of the Omnibus Election Code, also prohibits the suspension of any local elective officials during the election period, which runs from January 10 until June 8 this year.

The ban applies to both suspension as a penalty of the offense and as a preventive suspension, which is imposed while the investigation is pending to prevent the public official, who is facing the allegations, from influencing the witnesses or posing a threat to the integrity of the records and evidence in the case against him.

Except for the offense punishable under the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act” filed before the Ombudsman, a written authority to suspend local elective officials within the election period will have to be secured first from the Comelec.

Sanchez vowed that they will double their effort to resolve more cases when they resume investigation after the 90-day ban is terminated.

She made it clear that resolving the cases does not have to end up with one being suspended.

“Naa may cases nga kinahanglan na i-dismiss kay nagkasinabot na ang both parties. Kung na-settle na to kinahanglan na namo aksyonanan,” she said.

She, however, admitted that speedy and efficient resolution of the cases remains a challenge to her committee because of conflict of schedules of the parties’ counsels and of the committee’s members.

She said complainants also sometimes failed to appear during hearings and while others asked for postponement. Some, he said, also appeared no longer interested.

How can we act on something if the complainants will not pursue the case?” she said.

Motions for postponement are supposed to be not allowed as provided for under the provincial ordinance which prescribed rules and procedures governing investigation of administrative cases, “except when the same is grounded on the fact that the counsel or witness who is about to testify for either party is ill, as shown in an affidavit that the presence of such counsel or witness at the trial is indispensable and that the character of his illness is such as to render his non-attendance excusable or except upon highly meritorious reasons as determined by the Investigating Committee.”

Sanchez said they also have to give leeway for the parties involved in observance of due process.

“We give warnings though,” she said. — (FREEMAN)

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