Citing election ban, Bukidnon gov defers suspension of Valencia mayor

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/09 October) — Governor Alex Calingasan has not implemented the 15-day suspension of Valencia City Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata, citing the election ban.

Calingasan wrote the Office of the Ombudsman on October 5, saying the election ban disallows suspension of any elective official during the election period from September 25 to November 15. The two respondents of the complaint are incumbent officials of Valencia City.

The election for barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials is on October 25.
The Office of the Ombudsman issued an order last week suspending Mayor Catarata and a village chief for 15 days for alleged violation of Presidential Decree 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines.

Catarata and his cousin were charged for “misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”

Fourteen complainants led by Catarata’s political rival, former mayor Jose M. Galario Jr., charged Catarata of violating PD 705 when he allowed the release of a 10-wheeler truck transporting undocumented logs in August 2008.

The Ombudsman found respondents administratively liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

But the decision also noted that their actions did not constitute misconduct “in the absence of direct proof that they were in bad faith or maliciously motivated to release the said truck to the owner”.

In its 12-page decision, the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao favored the position of the complainants saying Catarata did an illegal act that did not help the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the performance of its function.

In his letter, the governor also cited jurisprudence on the case of Cagayan Valley Governor Rodolfo E. Aguinaldo vs. Luis Santos as Secretary of the Department of Local Government in 1992 which provided that “a reelected local official may not be held administratively accountable for misconduct committed during his prior term of office.”

Catarata was elected in 2007 and reelected in May 2010.

The reason behind this, the governor quoted in his letter to the Ombudsman, is that when the electorate reelected him, it is presumed that it did so with full knowledge of his life and character, including his past misconduct.

The decision presumed that the reelection is like a condonation of his past misdeeds.

Calingasan said he knew his role to implement is only ministerial and he should not pass on the merits of the issue.

“It is of my honest understanding that my office at this point is bereft of authority to implement such and to insist so would be a patent neglect and deviance of existing laws, which includes jurisprudence as provided by Supreme Court decisions,” he said.

He said he could not ignore the mandate and support afforded by the people to the respondents.

The governor told MindaNews he is also careful that he may not also be liable for failure to enforce, as supervisor of mayors, the decision for suspension.

Aristotle Collado, Catarata’s spokesperson, said they dismissed the decision as unenforceable citing the same reasons given by the governor. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)