Returning Aklan mayor greeted with dismissal
BORACAY ISLAND, AKLAN — Mayor Ciceron Cawaling of Malay town in Aklan province returned to his post on Wednesday morning amid fanfare, with hundreds of his supporters waving red flaglets and wearing campaign shirts in a caravan of motorcycles, tricycles and other vehicles along the main streets of the town before proceeding to the municipal hall.
Cawaling was in his office at 8 a.m. and resumed his functions after serving a six-month preventive suspension in relation to the administrative complaint filed against him and 16 other officials for their alleged negligence in the management of Boracay Island.
In the afternoon, as Cawaling was on his way to Metro Manila, officials of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) posted on his office an order from the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing the mayor from government service.
The Ombudsman decision dated April 15 found Cawaling and municipal licensing officer Jen Salsona guilty of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming of a public official and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
The Ombudsman also ordered the forfeiture of their retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification from government service.
The complaint against Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores, Malay Vice Mayor Abram Sualog and Councilors Natalie Cawaling-Paderes, Jupiter Gallenero, Frolibar Bautista, Lloyd Maming, Dalidig Sumndad, Maylynn “Nenette” Aguirre-Graf, Danilo de los Santos and Dante Pagsuguiron were dismissed “for lack of substantial evidence.”
The Ombudsman also dismissed the complaint against provincial environment and natural resources officer Valentin Talabero, the three former village chiefs of Boracay Island (Hector Casidsid of Yapak, Lilibeth Sacapaño of Balabag and Chona Gabay of Manoc-Manoc), and municipal environment and natural resources officer Edgardo Sancho.
Cawaling, who is seeking reelection, said he would consult with his lawyers on the legal actions he would take.
“But I will continue with my candidacy. There is no reason for the timing and implementation of this order but political harassment by my political rivals,” he told the Inquirer on Thursday.
Cawaling can still appeal the dismissal order up to the Supreme Court and remains a candidate in the May 13 elections.
The Ombudsman ordered the preventive suspension of Cawaling on Oct. 25, 2018, on the eve of the reopening of Boracay to tourists after a six-month closure to undergo rehabilitation.
In June 2018, the DILG filed the complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman over the officials’ alleged laxity in the issuance of building permits and their alleged failure to address illegal development activities on the resort island in Malay.
Cawaling, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2010, is running for reelection under the Nacionalista Party against former Mayor John Yap of the Nationalist People’s Coalition and independent candidate Rodgiet Ranara.
Many residents, business operators and environmentalists have blamed local officials as well as national government agencies and offices for decades of unregulated development and tourism activities that led to the environmental degradation of Boracay, the country’s top tourist destination.
They are pushing for the creation of an administrative authority composed of experts and representatives from the public and private sectors to manage the island instead of being under the local governments of Malay and Aklan.
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