The Sandiganbayan’s First Division ordered the 90-day suspension of Vice Mayor Dante Garcia of Tubao, La Union pending litigation of the graft charges he is facing in connection with the alleged purchase of overpriced fogging chemicals and chlorine.

In a five-page resolution, the court found the prosecution’s request to preventively suspend Garcia meritorious.

“As prayed for, accused Garcia, is hereby suspended pendente lite [pending litigation] as Vice Mayor of Tubao, La Union, and is hereby directed to cease and desist from performing his present government function or any other public office which he now or hereafter will be holding, for a period of ninety days,” it ruled.

The court cited Section 13 of Republic Act 3019 that, “unequivocally provides that the court is authorized to place an incumbent public official who, under a valid information, is criminally prosecuted for violating RA 3019 under preventive suspension. The rule on the matter is specific and categorical, leaving no room for interpretation. There are no ifs and buts about it.”

The law aims to prevent accused public officers from exercising undue influence to possible witnesses, considering their powerful position.

The prosecution sought the preventive suspension in July, which Garcia opposed saying that it is not automatic and that it would violate his right to due process because it would deprive him of his only means of livelihood.

Garcia argued that the legislative intent of Section 13 had already been secured as he pointed out that he was mayor at the time material to the case and he is now vice mayor, but the court said this argument was “erroneous.”

Stressing that the law is mandatory, the court said that it has “no discretion to determine whether a preventive suspension is necessary...The presumption is that unless the accused is suspended, he may frustrate his prosecution or commit further acts of malfeasance or do both.”

It also held that “[j]urisprudence dictates that preventive suspension applies to any office that the officer is currently holding and not necessarily the particular office in relation to which he is charged.”

As to Garcia’s argument that placing him under preventive suspension would deprive him of his means of livelihood, the court said that “[t]he constitutional principle of a public office as a public trust precludes any proprietary claim to a public office.”