BAGUIO CITY—In an unusual twist stemming from a tiff with a staff member of a local weekly, a Benguet court this week suspended the members of the La Trinidad town council for three months.
But heeding fears it may lead to a breakdown in the local government’s functions, Judge Danilo Camacho of the Regional Trial Court Branch 62, in a March 20 decision, ordered La Trinidad Vice Mayor Romero Salda and Councilors Jim Botiwey, Henry Kipas, Arthur Shontogan, Roderick Awingan, Horacio Ramos Jr., Estrella Adeban, Francis Lee, Von Tauli and Robert Namoro to serve their suspensions in three batches for the next nine months.
The judge said the suspension by stages will ensure that six councilors will keep the town council operational.
Camacho is hearing a graft charge filed against Salda and the nine councilors filed by Jimmy Laking, a staff member of the Baguio Midland Courier.
Laking was declared persona non grata in a Dec. 21, 2010 town council resolution for his reports and columns on politics, governance and the debates surrounding a proposed La Trinidad shopping mall.
Laking sued the council, arguing that they abused their authority, which violates provisions of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act). Salda and the councilors pleaded innocent.
La Trinidad Mayor Gregorio Abalos Jr. said he will seek the advice of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to help him understand how the decision will affect the functions of the local government.
“A vacancy may mean that the DILG will have to appoint a temporary councilor,” Abalos said by phone.
The suspension order was issued after the La Trinidad council passed the town’s 2013 budget, he said.
The council’s 2010 resolution took Laking to task for violating media ethics and standards.
“On several occasions, [Laking] misquoted members of the council and erroneously reported matters which are not in accordance with the intent and final decisions of this council,” it said. Vincent Cabreza with a report from Frank Cimatu, Inquirer Northern Luzon