Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero has been ordered suspended over graft charges allegedly in connection with the appointment of four defeated candidates in the 2013 elections by the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division, a year after she hurdled administrative raps for the same issue at the Ombdusman which only found her guilty of simple misconduct, down from the initial grave misconduct ruling.
The anti-graft court ordered the 90-day preventive suspension of Montero through a resolution promulgated on July 2 and released on Wednesday.
“Accused Montero shall immediately cease and desist from performing the functions of her office upon the implementation of this Order of Preventive Suspension,” the court said, highlighting the mandatory suspension of an accused who holds a position in government.
Montero is facing four counts of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and another four counts of Article 244 of the Revised Penal Code, also known as Unlawful Appointment.
The cases stemmed from her appointment of four defeated candidates in the 2013 elections namely Noel Homarchuelos, municipal administrator; Danilo Reyes, public information consultant; Apolinar Fudalan, IT consultant; and Fernando Penales, engineering consultant less than a year after the polls. Each of them were paid a salary of P25,000 per month.
The act defied the one-year ban in the appointment of losing candidates under the Local Government Code.
Montero initially attempted to stop the preventive suspension citing the Ombudsman’s completed investigation on the case.
However, the Sandiganbayan found no merit on Montero’s argument citing Section 13 of R.A. 3019, which states that “any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under valid information under this act…shall be suspended from office.”
The five-page resolution was penned by Associate Justice Kevin Vivero with the concurrence of Chairperson Associate Justice Sarah Fernandez and Associate Justice Carl Miranda.
In 2017, Montero was ordered suspended by then-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales after she was found guilty of simple misconduct for her violation of section 6, Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution, when she “appointed to a government office a candidate who lost in an election, within a year after such election.”
Morales in February, 2018 after taking “a second hard look at the evidence,” upgraded the ruling as she found Montero guilty of grave misconduct for the same case and ordered the mayor’s dismissal from the service.
The case was later elevated to the Court of Appeals which favored Montero and upheld the original Ombudsman ruling that she was only guilty of simple misconduct, which merited a suspension, not dismissal.
Montero was reelected in the May 2019 polls winning over Benjie Arcamo and Ruben Arbilon.