The Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) has ordered Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero including Vice Mayor Pedro Fuertes and nine municipal officials to answer a criminal and administrative complaint filed by the owner and developer of an islet off the coast of Panglao for grave abuse of authority and gross misconduct.
Another set of criminal and administrative case this time against Montero was filed by a staunch critic of her administration involving the alleged illegal appointments of her defeated political allies to positions in the local government.
Acting swiftly, the Ombudsman found enough basis to proceed with the criminal and administrative investigation of the cases filed against Montero and the municipal officials ordering them to file their respective counter affiidavits “strictly within ten days from receipt” of the complaints.
The case against Montero, Fuertes together with the thirteen impleaded officials were filed on August 24, 2015 by Ramon Rodriguez and the case against Montero was filed by Augustin Cloribel on August 14, 2015.
Ramon Rodriguez, who turned Pungtod, an uninhabited islet off the coast of Panglao into a pilgrimage site consecrated to St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina accused Montero for violation of section 3, paragraph (e) of RA 3019 of the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Administrative complaints for misconduct in office, abuse of authority and conduct unbecoming of a public officer were also lodged by Rodriguez with the Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas).
Impleaded in the case were Fuertes, municipal engineer Rogelio Bonao, executive assistants Fernando Penales, Danilo Reyes and Arthur Bagcat, municipal employees Juan Jora, Moises Estoquia, Manuel Fudolin and Sario Lagnason.
Also impleaded were Barangay Poblacion Kagawads Rolando Clenista and Victoria Revilla and members of the Panglao Coast Guard Sub-Station PO1 Nicolas Jaluag, SNI Wesley Bayron and Andres Taguindudo and SN2 Paquito Esarza.
The fifteen respondents, without prior notice of demolition or a cease and desist order, without legal basis and due process of law, conspired and criminally destroyed and removed the floating buoys surrounding Isola di Francesco known as Pungtod Island.
Montero mounted an operation with a flotilla of 18 motorized pumpboats, including a Coast Guard vessel manned by coast guard personnel on August 5, 2015, cut the ropes connecting the buoys, dragged and hauled them to the municipal hall while the others were allegedly brought to an undisclosed place.
Rodriguez alleged that Montero and her companions were aware of the fact that he and several employees were present in the island but deliberately failed to show or serve any document to support their actions.
The buoys, according to Rodriguez were assembled and built pursuant to and in compliance with Municipal Ordinance No. 6 s. 1998 and Philippine Coast Guard Memorandum Circular No. 03-14 dated April 14, 2014.
These buoys are part of safety, precautionary and security measures for guests and tourists visiting the islet.
Rodriguez in his 16 page complaint affidavit lamented Montero’s act of singling out Isola di Francesco among all resorts in Panglao that have installed and are still maintaining buoys
Resorts with buoys along their shorelines are Bellevue Resort Bohol, South Palms Resort Bohol, Tropical Villas, Dumaluan Beach Resort, Bohol Beach Club and Linaw Beach Resort.
Rodriguez maintained that the buoys of Isola di Francesco do not pose any danger to the life, health and safety of others but were specifically built and assembled to protect their lives.
More so, according to Rodriguez, the buoys do not obstruct the free passage of fishermen since they are clearly demarcated passage lines for all types of seacrafts.
The acts committed by Montero of causing difficulties, trouble, hardship and sufferings to him, his employees and guests who were present during the assault constitutes “grave abuse of authority and gross misconduct”, according to Rodriguez.
Montero’s actions, bewailed Rodriguez “have great tendency to destroy public respect as it involves oppressive and abusive acts that affects the public”.
Agustin Cloribel, a resident of Barangay Lourdes, Panglao and known for his relentless exposes of alleged wrongdoings of the Montero administration accused Montero of graft and corruption, technical malversation for illegal use of funds, gross misconduct and gross negligence in the performance of her duties.
Cloribel also wants the Ombudsman to preventively suspend Montero to prevent her from tampering with documents related to the cases filed against her.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Docketed as OMB-V-C-15-0266, Cloribel stressed that “This case highlights not only the wanton disregard by a municipal mayor of established laws and procedures, but more so, the improper use of public funds to compensate illegal appointments under her office”.
Cloribel likewise called on the Ombudsman to immediately place Montero under preventive suspension to prevent her from tampering with documents relevant to the cases filed as her continued stay in office would prejudice the outcome of these cases.
Montero, upon learning that Cloribel requested documents to buttress his allegations, issued a memorandum on August 4,, 2015 directing department heads not to release official documents, records, etc. without her prior approval “except by court order without prejudice of my consent”.
Cloribel told the Ombudsman that Montero, in gross violation of the Constitution and established laws appointed her defeated Vice Mayoralty candidate Noel Hormachuelos as Municipal Administrator/Consultant.
Three losing candidates for municipal councilors were also appointed by Montero – Danilo Reyes as public information officer, Apolinar Fudalan, employment coordinator/Livelihood, TESDA/IT consultant and Fernando Penales, consultant on infrastructure and engineering services.
“Mayor Montero’s appointments bear all signs of a partisan affair”, said Cloribel.Â Hormachuelos, Reyes and Fudalan ran under the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) party led by Montero while Penales ran as United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) councilor with defeated mayoralty candidate Vangie Lazaro and now Montero’s close ally, Vice Mayor Pedro Fuertes.
According to the thirty-nine page complaint, Montero violated the one year ban on appointing defeated candidates to any office in the government as provided in the Constitution and the Local Government Code.
Montero, according to Cloribel, defied recommendations from the Commission on Audit “to immediately stop the payment of the services of the concerned losing candidates while the one year prohibition on their hiring is still effective”.
Cloribel disclosed that Montero skirted the one year ban on the appointment of losing candidates in the elections by making it appear that the four appointees were on job order basis but were actually being paid way above the usual salary grade allowed for job order workers.
According to the 2013 COA Annual Audit Report (AAR) the hiring of the four so called consultants through job order is inappropriate since this is only applicable for general or janitorial services.
The four appointees are receiving P25,000 per month without prior authority from the Sangguniang Bayan, no appointment papers and as consultants their services did not undergo competitive public bidding as provided in section 2 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9184, according to the complaint.
“The only reason why Respondent-Mayor decided to classify the appointments under Job Order was to escape criminal, administrative and even civil liabilities from the illegal appointments”, alleged Cloribel.
The COA Audit report further stated that the position for executive assistants was not included in the budget, thus payment of their salaries or compensation has no legal basis.
Cloribel alleged that Montero inserted in the allocation for General Services (MOOE) the salaries of the four executive assistants amounting to P750,000.00 instead of Personal Services in violation of COA Circular No. 2004-008 dated on September 8, 2004.
Clearly, according to Cloribel, technical malversation was commited by Montero arising from the payment of compensation for her four illegally appointed executive assistants/consultants.
The COA recommended that Hormachuelos, Reyes, Fudalan and Penales shall refund the government of the full amount that they received arising from the illegal appointments.
The Ombudsman order was signed on September 7, 2015 by Jane Aguilar, OIC-Evaluation and Investigation Office in behalf of Paul Elmer Clemente, Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas.Â (Chito M. Visarra)