Panglao has a new mayor and vice mayor.
This after Mayor Leonila Montero was dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman and was sanctioned with a perpetual disqualification to hold any public office for the rest of her life.
Vice Mayor Pedro Fuertes of Panglao formally assumed as the new mayor of the municipality after taking his oath of office before Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Jorge Cabalit on Thursday afternoon minutes after the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) served the dismissal order against Montero.
Montero was dismissed from the service after the Office of the Ombudsman found her guilty of grave misconduct For conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service arising from her appointment of four partymates who were defeated during the May 2013 elections.
Meanwhile, first councilor Briccio Velasco also formally assumed office as vice mayor in place of Fuertes.
DILG provincial director Lousella Lucino simultaneously served the dismissal order with two separate memorandum circulars Thursday afternoon advising Fuertes and Velasco “to immediately assume the office of mayor and vice mayor,” respectively.
In its separate memorandum to Fuertes and Velasco, the DILG, through Regional Director Atty. Rene Burdeos, treats Montero’s dismissal as having created a permanent vacancy at the office of the municipal mayor.
However, the Chronicle learned yesterday that Montero has sought the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and injunction to stop the implementation of her dismissal in a petition filed at the Court of Appeals (CA) in Manila.
In a 34-page petition for review dated March 5, 2018, a copy of which was obtained by the Chronicle, Montero’s lawyers asked the CA to reverse the Joint Order dated January 19, 2018 issued by the Ombudsman which upgraded the penalty meted against the embattled lady-mayor from a 3-month suspension for the offense of simple misconduct to dismissal from the service for the offense of grave misconduct.
But regardless of the pending petition at the appellate court, DILG provincial director Lucino said the decision of the Ombudsman is final and must be enforced. Lucino, however, clarified that only a TRO or injunction issued by the CA in favor of Montero can stop her dismissal.
Lucino was supposed to personally serve the dismissal order at the residence and resort of Montero in Barangay Tawala at 2 p.m. on Thursday but was however told by the security guard that Montero was not around.
This prompted Lucino instead post the dismissal order on the door of the mayor’s office at the municipal hall.
“It was posted as notice to the public and also to signify that the order was served to the office,” Lucino explained.
MONTERO LOYALIST REMOVES DISMISSAL ORDER
But right after Lucino left the municipal hall, a casual employee of the local government unit (LGU) was spotted stripping off the dismissal order against Montero.
Municipal Councilor RogelinDegoma identified the town hall employee as Marie Venus Bantigue, a former LGU scholar under Montero.
According to Degoma, Bantigue was seen through a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera removing the paper which contained the dismissal order minutes after its posting on Thursday afternoon.
“Paghuman tapot taga DILG, unya after mga 10 mins, iyagilangkat,” said Degoma.
It was not immediately made known why the document was taken down right away, but Degoma later confirmed that Bantigue relayed the document to Montero.
“Jenny Arceno told me that the casual employee, Mariel Venus Bantigue removed the notice so that somebody can bring it to the residence of Montero family and hand the documents to the respondent,” said Degoma.
For her part, Lucino said that Bantigue did not commit any violation.
The DILG has no control over what is done to the paper after it has been served, said Luceno.
“Ang importantena-serve ugnapahibawnaangtanan,” she added.
Unlike in many other cases where local chief executives are removed from office, the takeover by Fuertes and Velasco on Thursday was without any untoward incident.
Both Fuertes and Velasco were already holding the said positions in an acting capacity when Montero began serving her suspension last January 11, 2018.
Montero was suspended for simple misconduct for appointing her partymates who lost in the 2013 elections to positions in the Panglao LGU.
However, the Ombudsman, after taking a “second hard look” at the evidence presented, upgraded its decision to grave misconduct leading to Montero’s dismissal.
Montero’s dismissal is an offshoot of a criminal and administrative complaint filed by Augustin Cloribel at the Ombudsman accusing Montero of committing violations to the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) and the Revised Penal Code, particularly Article 244 for unlawful appointments and Article 220 for illegal use of public funds – technical malversation, and for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
In a resolution dated 24 October 2017, the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Montero for one (1) count of violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and for four (4) counts of violation of Article 244 of the Revised Penal Code (unlawful appointments).
A separate decision was rendered by the Ombudsman on the administrative aspect of the case, finding Montero guilty of simple misconduct, meting a penalty of suspension for 3 months without pay.
On December 14, 2017, Montero filed a motion for reconsideration seeking the reversal of the ruling.
On the other hand, Cloribel also filed his own motion for reconsideration asking the Ombudsman to “take a second hard look” of its decision and prayed to declare Montero guilty of grave misconduct and for the imposition of the maximum penalty of dismissal.
In a Joint Order dated February 13, 2013, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales denied Montero’s motion while granting the appeal of Cloribel.
Montero’s lawyers anchored her petition for review at the CA on the argument that the lady-mayor was allegedly denied of due process and that the Ombudsman acted with grave abuse of discretion when it did not apply the “condonation doctrine” to her case.
According to Montero’s lawyers, the Ombudsman ruled on upgrading the offense from “simple misconduct” to “grave misconduct” without giving the mayor an opportunity to oppose the motion for reconsideration of Augustin Cloribel which became the Ombudsman’s basis in modifying its decision.
Moreover, Montero argued that the Ombudsman erred in disregarding the “condonation doctrine” which should have been applied to the case.
The “condonation doctrine” also known as Aguinaldo Doctrine states that a public official cannot be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term, since the official’s reelection to office operates as a condonation of the officer’s previous misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove her from office.
Montero’s reelection during the 2016 elections should have been considered by the Ombudsman as an act of “forgiveness” by the constituents of Panglao for the alleged offense committed by their mayor as they still voted for Montero to the mayoralty post in said polls.