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Dinagat vice gov posts bail on assault rap after budget fight

SURIGAO CITY—Dinagat Vice Gov. Geraldine “Jade” Ecleo posted bail on Friday to skip arrest for direct assault, even as her allies blamed the Supreme Court’s earlier flip-flopping on the province’s legal status, for the incident that triggered the charges against her.

The case stemmed from a scuffle between Ecleo and Surigao del Norte budget officer Maria Gay Cotiangco in January this year during a meeting called to look for solutions to Dinagat’s funding woes.

Dinagat’s internal revenue allotment (IRA), which amounted to about P100 million, was scrapped from the 2011 national budget. It now relies on Surigao del Norte, its mother province, to fund crucial expenditures such as the operations of a 50-bed district hospital.

Witnesses told the Inquirer that in the middle of the heated exchange between Ecleo and Cotiangco, a physical confrontation occurred.

In her report to the Surigao City police, Cotiangco said Ecleo slapped her, pulled her hair and clawed her face.

Ecleo told reporters in a press conference that she might have grabbed Cotiangco’s hair when they scuffled but denied she slapped her.

The two had different versions of what the fight was all about.

Ecleo said Cotiangco attacked her after she told her to shut up. She said she was talking during the meeting but the budget officer interrupted her.

In her version, Cotiangco said it was Ecleo who attacked her when she replied to Ecleo after being told to shut up.

According to Rene Burdeos, director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government for Caraga, he saw the two officials pull each other’s hair but did not see Ecleo slapping Cotiangco.

He said he could not categorically say who started it all.

Judge Caesar Bordalba, of the Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, issued a warrant of arrest against Ecleo on Thursday, setting the bail bond at P6,000.

But Ecleo showed no signs of backing down, saying she was prepared to go to jail “a thousand times if it meant fighting the discrimination” against her province.

What irked her, she said, was when Cotiangco allegedly told her condescendingly that Dinagat can’t have a portion of its IRA since its status had been declared illegal—referring to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that declared as unconstitutional the 2006 law that created the Dinagat province.

The high court reversed that ruling in March last year, which became final two months ago.

“I will get into similar fights over and over again if needed. I’m not afraid to go to prison if only to fight discrimination,” said Ecleo, whose brother, Ruben Jr., remains a fugitive after being convicted of corruption and parricide. Danilo V. Adorador III, Inquirer Mindanao

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Tags: Dinagat Island , Geraldine "Jade" Ecleo , Laws , Local authorities

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