By ACE ALGRE
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — All 8 town councilors and the Vice Mayor of the country’s Strawberry Capital were each sentenced to a three month suspension.
This after Regional Trial Court branch 62 hearing graft charges lodged by a veteran journalist, slapped them with a three-month mandatory suspension just this Tuesday.
Judge Danilo Camacho ordered a 90-day suspension on Vice Mayor Romeo Salda, presiding officer of the La Trinidad town council and Councilors Jim Botiwey; Henry Kipas; Arthur Shontogan; Roderick Awingan; Horacio Ramos Jr.; Estrella Adeban; Francis Lee; Von Tauli and Robert Namoro, who on December 2010 declared journalist Jimmy Laking a “personan non grata” for his alleged biased reports on a proposed construction of a mall in the town, on a local regional weekly newspaper.
Laking was earlier favored by the Benguet Prosecutor William Bacoling in a six-page resolution last year when he recommended the filing of a violation of section 3(a) of Republic Act 3019 or the anti-graft practices law against the officials saying “all the elements of graft were present which including their being public officials who acted with manifest impartiality, evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence which action caused undue injury to (Laking).”
Salda and the 8 councilors posted bail on April 2011 when a Benguet court determined probable cause and ordered them arrested. The town solons have entered their not-guilty pleas last December and have filed a petition for review before the Justice department but which was later junked because they submitted only photocopies of the Benguet Prosecutor’s resolution which they assailed.
Laking through counsel Noe Villanueva of the Sanidad Law Office petitioned the court to suspend the officials to give way for an impartial adjudication of the case.
Suspension by batches
Not to paralyze the town council however and disenfranchise the public of much needed services, Judge Camacho ordered the suspension of the officials in three batches.
Councilors Botiwey, Awingan and Lee will spend their three-month suspension first, then Councilors Kipas, Ramos Jr., and Tauli next, and Vice Mayor Salda, Councilors Shontogan, Adeban and Namoro last.
“Such scheme,” Judge Camacho explained, “ensures that never at any given time while the suspension is being implemented, will the Sangunniang Bayan of La Trinidad, Benguet be deprived of quorum to conduct its official business.”
The scheme solved an earlier dilemma faced by the DILG and also for the town if all legislators are suspended at the same time it may totally paralyze the town council.
The DILG earlier admitted it did not have any formula how to go about with the total paralysis of the council, perhaps the first “mass suspension” of officials in the Cordillera, if not for the whole country.
Veteran human rights lawyer Pablito Sanidad Sr. sees the Benguet prosecutor’s findings and the officials’ suspension “strengthens protection for media practitioners against abusive government officials.”# nordis.net