• VICE MAYOR REFUSES TO STEP DOWN

    Tension grips Lanao Sur town hall

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    LANAO DEL SUR: Tension ran high in Balabagan town here after the vice mayor refused to step down as acting mayor despite an order from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the incumbent to resume office.

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    Mayor Edna Ogka-Benito said supporters of Vice Mayor Quirino Sampiano—many of them armed with steel pipes and sticks—have blocked the municipal building and prevented her and government officials from reporting to work.

    The police also failed to serve the DILG order to Sampiano after the protesters who overwhelmed them posted themselves within and around the municipal hall.

    Benito was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman on December 28 last year following a complaint lodged by Nasser Disalungan, president of the Association of Barangay Chairmen (ABC) for simple misconduct.

    Disalungan claimed Benito withheld his salary but the mayor alleged that the village chairman was not reporting to office.

    On Feb. 2 the Court of Appeals 22nd Division issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing Benito back to work pending final resolutioan of the complaint filed by Disalungan.

    DILG Secretary in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Anwar Malang, confirmed the TRO and also issued an order for Sampiano to step down and allow Benito to serve her term.

    Billy Ogka, Benito’s aide, said local DILG director McMillan Lucman was also threatened by Sampiano’s supporters and warned him to stay away from the town hall.

    The mayor has urged the national government and authorities to immediately resolve the problem as it has already affected the delivery of basic services to the people of Balabagan.

    She also asked her supporters and the police to exercise maximum tolerance to avoid direct confrontation with Sampiano’s group. Residents have volunteered to protect Benito, who was temporarily holding office in her residence.

    Municipal officials were also reporting for office at Benito’s house because they were under threat by Sampiano’s supporters.

    There was no immediate statement from Sampiano on the allegations. He is running against Benito, who is seeking re-election, in the May polls under the Liberal Party.

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