Prosecutors want to reopen Taguig mayor’s case
STATE prosecutors appealed to the Sandiganbayan to bring back the case of Taguig Mayor Laarni Cayetano, whose fraud charge was dismissed by the court for lack of probable cause.
In its partial motion for reconsideration filed before the First Division, the Office of the Special Prosecutor under the Ombudsman said the court erred in dismissing the case for lack of probable cause.
The court in its resolution said the evidence does not pin Cayetano on the allegations that she ordered the padlocking of the session hall in Aug. 2010 to evict the council because of political affiliations.
Cayetano and her city administrator Jose Luis Montales were accused by Vice Mayor George Elias and 16 councilors of evicting them from the Session Hall on the first day of the Sangguniang Panlungsod session in 2010.
The complainants were 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 is a member of the Nacionalista Party.
Ombudsman prosecutors said the court erred in saying that a letter, received by the council on Aug. 16, 2010 informing them of a reorganization plan, does not mean Cayetano did not commit fraud.
The court had said since Cayetano informed the council of a reorganization plan and a need to change the council’s venue, the charges of fraud and prevention to hold meetings of assembly would not hold water.
The prosecutors said the existence of a letter does not mean it is an “uncontroverted” fact.
“Complainant’s receipt or knowledge of the contents of the letter is not enough. Are the contents of the Aug. 13, 2010 letter true or correct? Was there really a reengineering plan? To determine this, trial must be necessary,” the prosecution said.
It added that the letter was distributed Aug. 13 but was only received Aug. 16. The prosecution said the letter cannot be considered a three-day notice because it was only distributed on a late Friday afternoon, and was received by the council on the next working day, which was Monday.
Moreover, since she informed the council late Friday afternoon to prepare for the reorganization set to start Monday, Cayetano only gave the council less than two days to prepare, the prosecution said.
The prosecution also found no urgency in padlocking the session hall for the reorganization plan, especially because it was then during the very first day of session.
“The Honorable Court concluded that the notice must be to avoid surprise to the affected offices and to allow them to prepare for the forthcoming changes. But how could the Sanggunian reasonably prepare for the changes with less than two working days?” the prosecution said.
The prosecution also took exemption of the court’s ruling that Cayetano has powers under the Local Government Code to reorganize offices.
The prosecution said such power is not absolute, because it has to be for the end purpose of ensuring efficient, effective and economical governance.
Instead, Cayetano allegedly used this power to defraud the council simply because of their political affiliations, the prosecution said.
The prosecution noted too that despite Cayetano’s reorganization plan, it was only the Session Hall which was closed on Aug. 16.
While the Session Hall was padlocked, it was actually used by Cayetano herself as the reception area of her office, “with all the other offices kept open and no other office relocated.”
“The intention of the accused is questionable and showed bad faith and fraud in preventing the members of the Sanggunian to hold its first regular session because of political affiliation,” it added.
The court said it does not think the accused intend to deceive the council, because even administrator Montales asked the vice mayor to give inputs on the plan to construct a Local Legislative Building, which will include rooms for the presiding officer and members of the Sanggunian.
But because this new building is still under the drawing boards precisely makes the padlocking of the Session Hall premature, the prosecution said.
The court also said there was an existing reorganization plan, contrary to the prosecution’s claim that no such plan exists.
The prosecution stood by its findings and said there is no program of work or an approved budget to support the existence of a reorganization plan.
The court likewise noted that it is no longer Cayetano’s fault that the council was forced to hold their session in the stairway and corridors, which in the mind of the court is an “inappropriate” place to conduct a session deserving of “respect and formality.”
The prosecution said this observation of the court is “absolutely irrelevant and off-tangent.”
The Ombudsman prosecutors had also claimed that 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.
The court had said Cayetano wanted “business as usual” in the city hall because she selected a room to serve as a makeshift session hall for the council.
As for existence of the ballot boxes, these were well secured by guards and watchers, and that the presence of the ballot boxes would not prevent the council from using the space allotted to them, the court said.
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.
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.
Cayetano is the wife of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who is seeking the vice presidency under presidential aspirant Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
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