The Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan issued a Resolution last July 27, 2020 recommending to the Office of the Provincial Governor the 60-day preventive suspension of Mayor Gerandy Danao of Narra. The Resolution springs from administrative charges of Grave Misconduct, Gross Negligence, and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of Service, filed by Vice Mayor Lumba and the members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Narra.
The Resolution was adopted in full by the Governor, who is authorized under the Local Government Code to preventively suspend elective officials of a component municipality. As such, the preventive suspension of Mayor Danao has become executory.
As expected, supporters and sympathizers of the Mayor lamented the suspension as they steadfastly maintain the farmer-turned-mayor’s innocence. On the other side of the spectrum, critics and detractors of Mayor Danao were jubilant as they deem the suspension a triumph for the rule of law.
While these initial sentiments over the Mayor’s preventive suspension are understandable, there is a danger that it may lead to confusion as some may mistake Mayor Danao’s preventive suspension as a final judgment on his culpability. It is then opportune to clarify the meaning of a preventive suspension and its implications on Mayor Danao’s guilt or innocence.
At the outset, it must be understood that a preventive suspension is not a penalty but a mere preliminary step in an administrative case.
The Supreme Court has explained that a preventive suspension, as the term indicates, is a preventive measure, the purpose of which is to “prevent the accused from using his position and the powers and prerogatives of his office to influence potential witnesses or tamper with records which may be vital in the prosecution of the case against him.” (Quimbo vs. Acting Ombudsman, G.R. No. 155620, 9 August 2005)
This is also clear in the Local Government Code which justifies preventive suspensions due to “great probability that the continuance in office of the respondent could influence the witnesses or pose a threat to the safety and integrity of the records and other evidence xxx”(Section 63)
This probability was acknowledged by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in its Resolution, noting that some of the witnesses in this case are employees of the Municipality of Narra and are “directly answerable” to Mayor Danao, such that “he could exert his influence over said witnesses.”(page 6)
Simply put, the preventive suspension of Mayor Danao only seeks to ensure fairness in the proceedings and serves as a guarantee against any miscarriage of justice. It is not, in any way, a definitive pronouncement on his guilt. Rather, it is an initial step toward determining if the cases filed against him are meritorious. Thus, under the eyes of the law, Mayor Danao is still presumed innocent until the contrary is proved after an impartial trial.
However, while Mayor Danao’s preventive suspension has no implications on his guilt, it is indicative of the strength of the evidence against him and the gravity of his alleged offense.
Under the Local Government Code, a preventive suspension may be imposed “when the evidence of guilt is strong, and given the gravity of the offense xxx.” (Section 63) The task of determining the strength of the evidence of guilt in each of the charges against Mayor Danao, and their gravity, belongs to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.In its Resolution, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan found that out of the three charges against Mayor Danao, it is only in the administrative offense of Grave Misconduct that there is “strong evidence pointing to the guilt of the Respondent.” (page 5)
The charge of Grave Misconduct pertains to Mayor Danao’s alleged issuance of cockfighting permits without the approval of the Sangguniang Bayan, and alleged issuance of permits for the establishment and operation of a new cockpit without a franchise from the Sangguniang Bayan.
In finding that the evidence of guilt for Grave Misconduct is strong, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan relied on a Certification submitted by Vice Mayor Lumba and the members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Narra which attested to the fact that there was no franchise issued for the establishment and operation of the New Antipuluan Cockpit.
Thus, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan concluded that this Certification is “very strong proof” that Mayor Danao violated Municipal Ordinance No. 95-02, Presidential Decree No. 449, and Republic Act 3019, all of which constitute the alleged Grave Misconduct.
Finally, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan found that the alleged offenses of Mayor Danao are “grave in nature” since his alleged acts violate regulations on a form of gambling. For the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, “an elected official involved in the conduct of illegal gambling is a serious matter.” (page 6)
Considering the gravity of the alleged offense, the existence of strong evidence of guilt for Grave Misconduct, and the possibility of influence being exerted over witnesses, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan was left with no choice but to recommend Mayor Danao’s preventive suspension and give due course to the cases filed against him.
This sets the stage for a legal saga that is far from being over. What comes next is a grueling battle of legal wits before a neutral tribunal which gives all parties the opportunity to be heard.
Here, Mayor Danao has a chance to clear his name. Here, the complainants have a chance to prove their case. Here, more importantly, the truth has a chance to surface and to be upheld. May this truth lead to justice, and may justice be done though the heavens fall!
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