The Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division ordered the 90-day preventive suspension of Vice Mayor Maria Cielo Martinez of Bogo City, Cebu pending resolution of the graft and malversation cases in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
In a resolution, the court said “accused Maria Cielo A. Martinez is hereby directed to cease and desist from further performing and/or exercising the functions, duties and privileges of her position as Vice-Mayor of Bogo City, Cebu, or any other position she may now or hereafter be holding effective immediately upon receipt hereof and continuing for a period of ninety (90) days.”
The cases stemmed from the alleged misappropriation in 2003 of the P10-million PDAF allocation of her mother, former Cebu Rep. Clavel Martinez, which was meant for the Girl Scouts of the Philippines-Cebu Council’s (GSP-Cebu) anti-drug campaign but was allegedly deposited to the older Martinez’ account.
“The power of this Court to order the preventive suspension of an incumbent public official charged with violation of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, or Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code or for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property is supported by law and has been steadfastly upheld by the Supreme Court in many of its decisions,” the court resolution promulgated on January 30 said.
Last November, the prosecution recommended the suspension citing Section 13 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act which mandates the preventive suspension of incumbent public officers facing a valid graft charge or a charge under Title Seven, Book II of the Revised Penal Code.
Maria Cielo contested the move, saying the suspension is not needed and mandatory as she argued that her duties and functions as vice mayor is not related to the crimes charged and will thus not affect the disposition of the cases.
But the court held that with the two requisites (a valid information or charge sheet, and the offense charged is graft or is under Title Seven Book II of the Revised Penal Code) under Section 13 of the anti-graft law present, “the preventive suspension of accused Maria Cielo becomes mandatory.”
“Accused Maria Cielo asks this Court to deny the motion for her preventive suspension considering that she could not use her present position to hamper the prosecution of these cases. This argument is not new as this
has already been advanced and rejected by the Supreme Court in earlier cases,” it added.
The vice mayor, who was charged being the former GSP-Cebu treasurer, argued that she was not a public official yet at the time material to the case.
But the court said, “The law speaks of ‘incumbent’ public officers charged before this Court. It applies to all persons indicted upon a valid information under the provisions of R.A. No. 3019, whether they be appointive or elective officials; or permanent or temporary employees, or pertaining to the career or non-career service. The term ‘office’ in Section 13 of the law applies to any office which the officer might currently be holding and not necessarily the particular office in relation to which he is charged.”
The graft court also ordered that a copy of its ruling be provided to the Interior and Local Government secretary for the implementation of the suspension order issued by Associate Justice Karl Miranda, concurred in by Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada, who leads the court’s Sixth Division, and Associate Justice Oscar Herrera Jr.
Also facing charges are former Cebu Rep. Martinez, her son former Bogo Mayor Celestino Martinez 3rd, then-Municipal Treasurer Rhett Minguez, then-Municipal Accountant Cresencio Verdida, bookkeeper Rhodariza Kilantang and then-Cashier-Designate Julieta Quiño, both of GSP-Cebu.