Occidental Mindoro town mayor suspended over graft case
Updated @ 11:38 p.m., June 17, 2019
MANILA, Philippines — Mayor Romulo Festin of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro — recently known for helping Filipino fishermen whose boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel at Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea — has been suspended for 90 days by the Sandiganbayan for graft cases.
In the resolution released by last May 22 — way before the maritime incident — the Third Division clarified that Festin’s suspension was not a form of punishment, but rather a measure to ensure that the public official involved would not be given a chance to stall or frustrate investigations against him.
The anti-graft court also cited a Supreme Court ruling which said that suspending officials involved in graft cases are mandatory, in accordance with Section 13 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“Verily, once the information is found to be sufficient in form and substance, then the court must issue the order of suspension as a matter of course. There are no ifs or buts about it,” Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, who wrote the resolution, said.
“This is because a preventive suspension is not a penalty. It is not imposed as a result of judicial proceedings. In fact, if acquitted, the official concerned shall be entitled to reinstatement and to the salaries and benefits which he failed to receive during the suspension,” the court added.
Festin is facing three counts of graft for cases related to purchasing of vehicles and disbursement of salaries even without proper attendance records.
He was recently featured in news reports after he vowed to help the 22 fishermen aboard F/B Gimvir 1 when it was rammed by a Chinese vessel last June 9 at the disputed Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
He also refuted the Chinese Embassy’s officials statement that the incident was not a hit-and-run, and that seven other boats besieged the Chinese vessel.
According to the chief executive, the cases were just part of his political rival’s harassment.
“According to accused Festin, these cases ‘were hatched by accused'[s] political nemesis on the basis of purely political reasons and mere political harassment’,” Sandiganbayan said.
“Thus, he argues that […] the Honorable Court’s power to suspend pendente lite may wittingly or unwittingly be used by political interests for political purposes,” it added.
However, the court noted that the pieces of information filed by state prosecutors against the local executive are valid.
“In this case, there is absolutely no question to the validity of the Information. Thus, the preventive suspension of the accused follows as a matter of course,” the Third Division explained.
After 90 days upon the receipt of the resolution, Festin would be reinstated again as mayor. He is set to serve another term as municipal mayor after he defeated opponent Rey Ladaga by less than 2,000 votes in the last 2019 midterm elections.
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