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Cagayan bishop backs embattled mayor

/ 01:23 AM September 08, 2014

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya— Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg has expressed support for Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano, who, along with his city administrator, was ordered dismissed last month by the Ombudsman for grave misconduct.

In a statement, Utleg said the archdiocese was supporting the “moral dimension” of Soriano’s mandate as duly elected mayor of Tuguegarao City, capital of the Cagayan province.

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“We leave the resolution of the legal issues to the courts and to other relevant agencies of the State. We, however, wish to make clear the moral dimension of honoring the people’s will in electing him as mayor of the city,” the statement said.

Utleg issued the statement amid rising tension in the city, as officials and residents awaited the fate of Soriano and City Administrator Ronald Brillantes following the Ombudsman’s order.

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In an Aug. 20 decision, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found Soriano and Brillantes liable for grave misconduct for allowing the conducting of a street fair last year, along with the closure of city streets, without approval from the city council.

Aside from the administrative penalty, Morales also recommended the filing of criminal charges against the two officials in the Sandiganbayan for two counts of violation of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Antigraft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Soriano and Brillantes, however, continue to discharge their duties, as the Department of the Interior and Local Government has yet to implement the ruling, in deference to the 10-day period within which the officials may ask for reconsideration of the decision.

In an earlier interview, the officials said they would abide by the ruling but vowed to exhaust all legal remedies available.

In his Sept. 4 statement, Utleg said the act for which Soriano and Brillantes were ordered dismissed—the holding of a street fair, or “baratillo,” during the city’s fiesta celebration—had also been committed by previous city officials.

“Treatment must be fair and similar [acts] must be treated similarly. This is nothing less than the demand of justice,” he said.

The statement, however, drew mixed reactions from residents, with some expressing gratitude for the bishop’s pronouncements while others scoffing at how some members of the clergy have been dipping their hands in the political controversy.

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Tuguegarao City Councilor Maila Rosario Ting-Que, the complainant in the Ombudsman case, expressed doubts on the authenticity of the contents of the purported statement.

“We were informed by some Church sources that the text of the original version had been altered. Nonetheless, we just hope that the Church will be nonpartisan amid all these political issues,” she said in a phone interview.

On Wednesday, Soriano’s supporters staged a prayer rally at the grounds of St. Peter Cathedral in Tuguegarao City and offered a Mass on Saturday to express their support for the mayor. Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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