• Cagayan mayor in P34-M deal grounded

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    The Sandiganbayan has ordered the suspension of Tuguegarao City mayor over the P34-million Robinson chopper controversy that once embroiled the Philippine National Police.

    The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division directed Jefferson Soriano, former police deputy director general of the Philippine National Police (PNP), to vacate his office as the provincial chief of the capital of Cagayan province.

    In the resolution, the anti-graft court magistrates stressed that Soriano’s suspension is “mandatory,” citing Supreme Court jurisprudence.

    Implicated as a police officer in 2012, Soriano, who was the former chairman of PNP bids and awards committee, was elected to the highest city post in the May 2013 elections in the northern city.

    But with a graft charge before the Sandiganbayan, Soriano should be suspended as the city chief as enshrined in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, prosecutors said.

    “Any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution [is]under a valid information . . . shall be suspended from office,” the prosecution earlier moved.

    However, Soriano opposed saying that being in Tuguegarao City, he has no way of messing up with the evidence at the PNP, which is in Metro Manila.

    He added that with his office being an entirely different one from his former position, he could not intimidate or harass any witnesses or tamper any evidence.

    But the Sandiganbayan sided with the Ombudsman.

    It said that since the charge sheet is “sufficient in form and substance,” and that the charge squarely falls within the ambit of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act on suspension, “the court must issue the order of suspension as a matter of course.”

    The justices added that even if Soriano is a mayor and so contended that he could not tamper any evidence, the Supreme Court already ruled that “office” means any position that the officer may be holding.

    Also, there is no need for a pre-suspension hearing, which Soriano requested because he had been filing pleadings, which also manifested due process accorded to him.

    By way of reconsideration, Soriano said that there is a fatal flaw in the suspension order.

    He said that it is a “stupid argument” for the court to suspend him for 90 days to avert any act of malfeasance when in fact he has a total of 1,095 days in office.

    “Is it actually saying that there is a danger of committing further acts of malfeasance only within the 90-day period while the official is suspended and such danger is not present within the 1,005 days in office? Does it not sound a stupid argument?” Soriano said.

    He added that it is an “absurd situation” when a public official is “corruption risk” for the 90 days but not under the remaining term in his office.

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