Mayor, 3 other officials suspended for 90 days

Marchel P. Espina (The Freeman) - January 2, 2016 - 9:00am

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – It was not a happy new year for a mayor and three other officials of Escalante City in Negros Occidental after they were suspended for 90 days without pay over the alleged anomalous disbursement of travel funds for some councilors in 2009.

Escalante City Mayor Melecio Yap Jr., City Budget Officer Roy Caralde, acting City Accountant Arnulfa Donoso, and City Treasurer Wilfredo Ruiz were suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman following the complaint for misconduct, abuse of authority and dishonesty cases filed against them on December 10, 2009 by former councilors Armando Alcos, Evelyn Hinolan, and Teresita Flores.

The complainants alleged that the officials issued checks and vouchers in 15 separate occasions—from March 2008 to April 2009—using funds of the City Council without the latter’s approval.

The 19-page decision of the Ombudsman, signed by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer III Edna Diño on November 11, said Mayor Yap, Caralde, Donoso and Ruiz committed simple misconducts violating Sections 344 and 345 of the Local Government Code, or the Republic Act 7160.

Last December 28, Margie Biligan, regional director of Department of the Interior and Local Government-Region 18, served the suspension order against the mayor and the three other officials.

The Ombudsman stated that then vice mayor Santiago Barcelona Jr. should have been the one who approved the disbursement of funds. “All financial transactions of the city mayor must have the imprimatur of the sanggunian (City Council)” as the latter is vested to authorize the mayor to “negotiate and contract loans and other forms of indebtedness,” it said.

Further, the Ombudsman said the City Council, during its inaugural session on 5th of July 2007, approved a resolution authorizing Yap and Ruiz to countersign the city’s check, except those that will be sourced from the City Council’s funds.

Yap, for his part, countered that the checks and vouchers came from his office, and that some councilors asked for his help as they wanted to attend an event, which was organized by the Philippine Councilor’s League, but Barcelona did not issue travel orders in 2009.

“I told them that they could travel using the fund of my office since I did not spend much for travel during my first term. I wanted them to have the privilege in joining the event because I was once a councilor, too,” said Yap, who filed a motion for reconsideration to reverse the Ombudsman’s ruling.

With the suspension of Yap, Vice Mayor Santiago Maravillas took oath as acting mayor before Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. at the public plaza last December 30.

Maravillas said that, as acting mayor, he will implement reforms especially in the City Police. “My first plan is to launch a heightened campaign against illegal drugs. Since I do not have trust and confidence in the present setup of the police, I must have to do something to at least change them,” he said. He also said he has “no interest in putting up new positions” or terminating any job order casual employees and executive assistants identified with the suspended mayor, but the performance of the City Hall workers will be evaluated.

Both Yap, who is under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Maravillas of the National Unity Party, are running for congressman in the first district of Negros Occidental in the 2016 elections.

Meanwhile, Marañon said the administrative case against Yap was long overdue, and he urged the public to support acting Mayor Maravillas by setting aside politics. (FREEMAN)

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