The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the suspension of Mayor Meynardo Sabili of Lipa City, Batangas after finding him guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in connection with a complaint of his clients while he was a practicing lawyer in 2010.
His case was endorsed to the Court of the Appeals (CA) after he filed a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Sabili was ordered suspended from holding office for nine months and to step down as mayor of Lipa City after the complaint was filed.
He, however, sought a TRO to stop his suspension and the case was elevated to the CA’s 10th Division.
Sabili’s case stemmed from a complaint filed on March 12, 2015 by Oscar Camerino, Efren Camerino, Dionisia Enriquez, Gerardo Enriquez, Conrado Enriquez, Ramon Enriquez, Virgilio Enriquez, Mildren del Rosario, Nick del Rosario and Nielbert del Rosario, who were registered owners of three parcels of land at Victoria Homes in Tunasan, Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila).
In a Memorandum of Agreement dated March 11, 2010, the complainants authorized Sabili, then a private lawyer, to represent them in the settlement of cases and in all other transactions involving the Victoria Property in exchange for 50,000 square meters.
On June 30, 2010 Sabili was elected mayor of Lipa City and reelected in May 2013.
The complainants alleged that Sabili harassed them by filing a civil case for specific performance and damages to deliver to him his share of the property even though he was not in any way helpful to them.
They claimed that Sabili, accompanied by armed men, went to the property on July 15, 2012 and uttered threatening words at them.
The complainants then accused Sabili of grave misconduct, dishonesty and grave abuse of authority.
Sabili denied the accusation, saying he could no longer be charged in view of the Aguinaldo doctrine, which condoned his past acts, having been reelected in 2013.
The Ombudsman said Sabili cannot invoke the Aguinaldo doctrine in view of the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Ombudsman against former Makati City (Metro Manila) Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr.
In that case, the High Court ruled that the Ombudsman can proceed with the findings of administrative liability since it shall be “prospective in application.”
The anti-graft body ruled that Sabili’s remarks and use of armed men is a display of influence and power, making him liable.
“Respondent’s [Sabili] act of uttering threatening remarks while being escorted by armed men and introducing himself as Lipa City mayor is, undoubtedly, a haughty display of influence and power for which he should be held administratively liable,” the ruling stated.
Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Kristine Suzanne Fineza, in her recommendation, stated that Sabili was found “guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and is meted the penalty of suspension of 9 months from office.”