For her skillfully crafted but highly controversial maneuver to “reclaim her crown” from Panglao Mayor Pedro Fuertes, dismissed Mayor Leonila “Nila” Montero and the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Panglao are now facing complaints before the Court of Appeals (CA) Special Twelfth (12th) Division, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Tagbilaran City and the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) for the Visayas.
A complaint for disbarment was also filed against Montero’s three lawyers – Johnson B. Hontanosas, Maria Evaneliza T. Cloma-Lucero, Ma. Sheryl L. Maslog and a separate complaint against Panglao Municipal Councilor Atty. Dennis B. Hora before the Office of the Bar Confidant, Supreme Court (SC) – En Banc.
An administrative complaint for grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service was also filed before the OMB-Visayas against Montero together with Vice Mayor Velasco, Hora, Amira Alia P. Montero, Noel Hormachuelos, Cresente Arbutante, Rogelin Degoma, Yolando Hormachuelos, Jose Arbitrario and Jonah Loretero, all municipal councilors of Panglao.
The SB members allegedly “maliciously dipped their fingers in a judicial proceeding in the exercise of their legislative functions,” for the enactment of a resolution confirming and acknowledging the reassumption of Montero as mayor of Panglao and authorizing her as the official signatory of the checking account and other financial transactions of the Local Government Unit (LGU).
The keenly awaited opinion from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) that will settle the disputed mayoral position of Panglao and soothe the frayed nerves of the employees of the LGU and its residents is reportedly in the possession of DILG Bohol Provincial Director John Joan Mende.
Augustin Cloribel, standing as the lone petitioner, concerned citizen and registered voter of Barangay Lourdes, Panglao filed the complaints simultaneously on September 13, 2018, while the separate complaint for disbarment against the four lawyers was filed on September 14, 2018.
As narrated in the complaints filed by Cloribel, the dramatic re-assumption to the mayor’s office by Montero started to unfold on Monday morning, September 10, 2018, when upon the advice of her lawyers, Montero allegedly “intruded and interrupted” the proceedings of the SB regular session, delivered a speech and read a prepared letter informing the body that she is “reporting back” as mayor of Panglao.
Montero allegedly requested the SP to pass a resolution authorizing her as the signatory of the bank accounts and all transactions of the LGU which was readily granted by the SP as sponsored by Councilor Hora.
Vice Mayor Velasco, the presiding officer of the SB was called to task by Cloribel for allowing the commission of an unlawful act and “could have struck down the proceedings” as it was not even included in the agenda of the session.
Velasco, in an interview with DYRD Balita said that he manifested his objections during the session but was stymied by the vigorous opposition of Hora.
Believing that he could steer the body towards an enlightened discussion of Montero’s request for a resolution, Velasco did not relinquish the chair but was taken aback by the majority vote of the councilors.
Two councilors – Labaya and Degoma did not sign the assailed resolution but Degoma allegedly raised her hand in favor of the resolution when it was put to a vote.
The court was also urged to stop the SB from enacting or ratifying any form of legislation relating to the re-assumption of Montero as mayor until the court have finally resolved the petition and the final disposition of the administrative case under review with the CA.
The TRO petition slammed Montero and the SB for violating the “sub judice” rule and arrogating the powers of the judiciary and usurping the authority of the court
The SB’s approval of the resolution reinstating, allegedly at the behest of Montero, and conferring her with official functions despite “full knowledge” of a pending judicial proceeding before the Court of Appeals (CA) Special Twelfth (12th) Division is “unlawful and even criminal.”
ADVICE AND CONSENT
Emboldened by the SB resolution, Montero with the assistance of her lawyers and Councilor Hora “forced herself” into occupying her former office at the ground floor of the municipal hall since Monday, which was previously occupied by Vice Mayor Velasco, while Mayor Fuertes remained at his office on the second floor when he was still the vice mayor.
Firmly staking her claim as mayor, Montero immediately issued Memorandum 01-2018 addressed to all heads of offices, barangay captains and employees informing them of her re-assumption to the office of mayor.
The next day, September 11, 2018 Montero called a meeting with stakeholders affected by the demolition of their illegal structures along the beachfront of Panglao and reportedly gave her assurance that she will protect their interests.
According to the handful of stakeholders who were present, Montero bragged that she will invite Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, Michael Lloyd Dino for a consultation meeting.
Mayor Pedro Fuertes, who took two oaths of office – the first, as Officer-in-charge when Montero was suspended and the second as full-fledged Mayor after the dismissal order from the Ombudsman, remained unfazed and ignored the machinations of Montero.
The alleged illegal acts of Montero and the SB has metastasized and have “instigated confusion and disorder in the affairs” of the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Panglao, according to the petition for TRO.
Montero, despite her pending appeal in an urgent motion for clarification and/or reconsideration before the CA and the unresolved motion for reconsideration (MR) of Cloribel, insisted that based on section 46 (a) and (b) and the June 28, 2018 ruling of the CA reinstating the original suspension order of the Ombudsman “the legal incapacity that prevented me from discharging the functions of my office as duly elected mayor of our municipality no longer exists.”
Cloribel, deeply disturbed by the sudden turn of events, with his motion for reconsideration (MR) still unresolved by the CA including Montero’s Urgent Motion for Clarification and/or Reconsideration filed the TRO and indirect contempt before the RTC, Tagbilaran City and a motion for contempt of court before the CA 12th Division.
In a ten-page petition for a TRO, Cloribel asked the court to restrain Montero and all persons acting in her behalf from performing the responsibilities and functions of mayor including the implementation of SB Resolution No. 226.
Cloribel stressed that if Montero is not restrained to act as mayor, disorder and confusion in the operations and delivery of public services will prejudice the people of Panglao.
The Chronicle learned that the TRO hearing will start on Monday.
SIMPLE OR GRAVE MISCONDUCT
The root of the dispute stemmed from a Commission on Audit Annual Audit Report (COA-AAR) used as the basis for Cloribel’s complaint against Montero filed before the OMB on August 14, 2015, for appointing four candidates who lost in the May 2013 elections.
Cloribel claimed in his complaint-affidavit that the appointments by Montero, according to the COA report violated section 6, Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution and section 94 (b) of the Local Government Code (LGC) which prohibit the appointment to any office in the government of a candidate who loses in an election within one year after such election.
Montero hired the services of her defeated Vice Mayoralty candidate Noel Hormachuelos as Municipal Administrator/Consultant for Administrative Services, three losing candidates for municipal councilors – Danilo Reyes as public information officer, Apolinar Fudalan, employment coordinator/Livelihood, TESDA/IT consultant and Fernando Penales, a consultant on infrastructure and engineering services.
Hormachuelos, Reyes, and Fudalan ran under the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) Laban party led by Montero while Penales ran as United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate for councilor with Pedro Fuertes as his vice-mayor
DISMISSAL OR SUSPENSION
In the original decision of the OMB which was ordered reinstated by the CA, the OMB suspended Montero for three months without pay since no corruption was committed in the appointment of the four losing candidates and there was no clear intent to violate the law on the part of Montero.
However, upon reconsideration, the OMB was persuaded by the arguments of Cloribel that a heavier penalty should be imposed on Montero since her appointments violated a constitutional provision and even a Commission on Audit report gave a negative recommendation on the matter.
Subsequently, the OMB reversed its original decision and ruled that Montero should be dismissed from the service for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Montero was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service, canceled her eligibility, forfeited her retirement benefits and imposed the penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold public office.
However, the CA 12th Division set aside the order of the OMB on June 28, 2018 which found Montero guilty of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and ordered the reinstatement of the OMB’s original decision holding Montero liable for simple misconduct.
The CA ruled that no substantial evidence was presented by Cloribel to support the element of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of an established rule to characterize the appointment as grave misconduct.
According to the CA “the Ombudsman was correct in its original decision that petitioner is guilty of simple misconduct.”
The Chronicle learned that the TRO hearing will start on Monday.
GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW
Meanwhile, the verified disbarment complaint filed by Cloribel against the three lawyers of Montero that included Councilor Hora claimed that Montero acted upon their advice and counsel.
Despite full knowledge of the fact that her petition for review is still pending in the CA, Hontanosas, Cloma-Lucero and Maslog knowingly and willfully allowed the usurpation of authority, official functions and judicial powers, according to Cloribel.
Montero’s lawyers also violated the sub judice rule and showed disrespect in contempt of court and failed to give sound and lawful advice to their client in gross violation of their oath as lawyers, according to the complaint.
Cloribel also singled out Councilor Hora who knew the details of the case and Hontanosas who was engaged as one of Montero’s legal consultants.
Cloribel pointed out that this is the second time that Hontanosas committed offenses in relation to the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Cloribel cited SC Administrative Memorandum No. 574 suspending Hontanosas from the practice of law for six months after being found guilty of violating the lawyers’ oath and gross misconduct with a warning that a repetition of a similar act will be dealt with more severely.
The four respondents, according to Cloribel could not feign ignorance of the status of the administrative case pending in the CA and their acts of aiding, counseling and abetting the re-assumption of Montero can even hold them criminally liable.
The acts of the respondent lawyers are deemed unworthy to be part of the very noble profession of lawyers, according to the complaint. (Chito M. Visarra)