Sandigan junks case vs Taguig mayor for locking session hall
The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the case against Taguig Mayor Laarni Cayetano for allegedly padlocking the session hall and evicting her political rivals in 2010.
In a resolution promulgated last Dec. 11, the antigraft court First Division said the complainants, represented by Vice Mayor George Elias, had received a letter from the accused city administrator Jose Luis Montales informing them of a reorganization plan starting on Aug. 16, 2010.
Elias and 16 councilors from the Sangguniang Panglungsod accused Cayetano of evicting them through padlocking the session hall and preventing them from holding their regular session.
The court said since the complainants were informed that the session hall could not be used for meetings because of the reorganization plan, the charges of fraud and prevention to hold meetings of assembly would not hold water.
“The gravamen of Article 143 is the prevention of the meeting of the Assembly and similar bodies such as the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP), by force or fraud… The complainants of the SP were not prevented by the accused, either by force or fraud, to conduct its session on the date material to this case,” the court said.
“Even at this stage, it is clear to the Court that the prosecution’s evidence fails to make out a probable cause against the accused,” it added.
Thus, the court declared Cayetano’s motion to expunge the case moot and dismissed the case for lack of probable cause.
Mayor Cayetano was indicted by the Ombudsman for violation of Article 143 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes persons who, by force or fraud, prevent or tend to prevent the meetings of local legislative bodies.
Mayor Cayetano said the complainants are from the “Kilusang Diwa ng Taguig” of former Mayor Sigfrido Tinga and his father former Supreme Court Justice Dante Tinga. The Cayetanos and Tinga are long-time political rivals in Taguig.
Cayetano beat former Justice Tinga in the 2010 elections. She again beat Tinga’s daughter Rica for mayor in the 2013 elections.
Cayetano maintained that the session hall was padlocked because of the reorganization of the office rooms in the building, which is part of her powers as mayor.
Cayetano further said that the closure of the session hall was for the reorganization and re-engineering of the city hall offices.
She said that the session hall was relocated to the old courtroom and refurbished with the same facilities and amenities as the old session hall. The councilors and vice mayor were also notified beforehand of the relocation to the old courtroom, Cayetano said.
She added that there was enough signage showing the way where the old session hall was relocated.
“Obviously, there is a whale of difference between transferring the Sangguniang Panlungsod to a new session hall and preventing them from conducting their session,” the motion said.
In its information against Cayetano, Ombudsman prosecutors accused Cayetano and Executive Assistant/Taguig city administrator Montales of conspiring with one another to prevent by force or fraud the city council meeting when Cayetano ordered closed the session hall of the Sangguniang Panlungsod without proper notice or reason on Aug. 2010.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said because Cayetano padlocked the session hall, the city council held its proceedings on the staircase of the city hall and in various venues inside and outside the city hall for the next 14 sessions.
The council said the padlocking of the session hall was an act of hostility, premeditated and executed with undue haste, without prior consultation and prior notice.
Morales also junked Cayetano’s explanation that the move was part of the city’s reengineering and reorganizational plan.
The Ombudsman said there was neither a plan nor a semblance of a project study that would make necessary the immediate change in the layout of the city hall offices.
The Ombudsman’s resolution also said that “the documentary evidence, as well as respondents’ own admissions, belied their claim that any ‘reorganizational or reengineering plan’ with respect to city hall offices actually existed.”
The Ombudsman also said Cayetano failed to comply with Section 45(b), Article I, Chapter III of the Local Government Code which requires that the power bestowed upon the local chief executive to assign and allocate office spaces must be exercised for the purpose of promoting efficient and economical governance, for “the exercise of any power, whether express or implied, must be rational. The exercise necessarily precludes any arbitrariness or abuse.”
The council was forced to work in the upper deck of the auditorium where the ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia used in the 2010 elections were stored. These were the subject of an election protest against Cayetano.
Cayetano is the wife of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who is seeking the vice presidency under presidential aspirant Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. RAM
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