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Opinion

The Socorro cult: A conspiracy of notorious negligence?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

How could the Socorro cult controversy have been allowed to happen before the very eyes of the government --both the LGUs and the national government agencies? Should the municipal mayor and provincial governor, including the DILG municipal, provincial and regional officials be also held liable for dereliction of duties and notorious, and if you will, even inexcusable negligence?

How could the ragtag group of Jey Rence Quilario or Senyor Aguila be allowed to behave like a tribal leader who had complete control and domination over a thousand families in Sitio Kapihan, Sering, Socorro, Surigao del Norte? Why did the mayor and the governor tolerate the tyrannical and dictatorial regime perpetrated by a group of religious fanatics? How did it happen that the private army of Senyor Aguila could control the movement of thousands of people? How could they prohibit children from going to school? How could they allow more than 200 small children to die without government health services? Why were government authorities prohibited from entering the domain of the cult? Why did the DENR not do its duty to put the Socorro local dictators in their proper place relative to the use of public land?

If not for some teenagers who escaped from the virtual prison and who reported to the police and NBI, it wouldn’t have been known that Surigao officials and the national agencies assigned in the Caraga region closed their eyes to the multiple crimes being committed. They should all be charged with serious dereliction of their sworn duties and for notorious and inexcusable negligence. They should not be allowed to escape from these sworn duties because the things speak for themselves. The local officials are guilty of failing to enforce the law. Their failure is tantamount to tolerance and implied approval of all those despicable atrocities.

The Supreme Court held in one case, Ricardo Trinidad Jr. vs. Office of the Ombudsman, (GR 227440, decided on December 2, 20220), that: "Clearly, criminal gross negligence is treated differently from administrative gross negligence.” While good faith may exculpate a public official from criminal liability, the same does not necessarily relieve him from administrative liability. In Office of the Court Administrator vs. Clerk of Court Marasigan, respondent Marasigan was found liable for administrative gross negligence for failing to supervise his subordinates in managing court funds. Marasigan claimed that he assigned the task to one of his subordinates in good faith. The Socorro cult controversy is much, much more serious than the Trinidad negligence but the principle is the same.

The court declared that no amount of good faith can relieve Marasigan of liability for failing to properly administer and safeguard the court's funds. In the more recent case of Roy III vs. The Honorable Ombudsman, we declared that malice or fraudulent intent cannot be automatically inferred from a mere signature appearing on the purchase order. The court added that negligence in signing an irregular purchase order would, at worst, only amount to gross negligence. The Supreme Court held: "A public officer's duty, no matter how miniscule, must still be diligently accomplished. No less than the Constitution sanctifies the principle that public office is a public trust, and enjoins all public officers and employees to serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency."

In the case of BSP vs. Nelson Bool, (GR 207522, decided on April 21, 2021), the Supreme Court said: "Gross neglect of duty is a grave offense under Section 52 (A) (2), Rule IV19 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (Uniform Rules). The Uniform Rules prescribe the penalty of dismissal from service for gross neglect of duty even if committed for the first time. Section 46 (A)(2), Rule 1020 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (Revised Rules) similarly classified gross neglect of duty as a grave offense." It added that the prescribed penalty for the administrative offense is an indivisible penalty which is dismissal from service.

Heads should roll in Surigao so that the whole nation will see a conscientious implementation of the rule of law. No less and no more. If we were Japan, the DILG secretary, the police director, the mayor, and the governor should have already committed a political "hara-kiri" and resigned. But this is the Philippines where no one accepts responsibility, the land of finger-pointing and where "respondeat superior” and command responsibility are just for the books. We should all be ashamed of our shamelessness.

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