(File photo)

Aborlan Mayor Jaime Ortega refused to vacate his office Monday despite a “final and executory” six-month suspension order imposed on him by the Palawan Provincial Board (PB) for dereliction of duty involving water system projects worth P67 million in the municipality.

The PB suspension order on Ortega on January 9 followed his three-month October 2018 preventive suspension while the “dereliction of duty” complaint filed against him by Aborlan resident Gregorio Echague III was being investigated.

Echague had accused Ortega of deliberately violating municipal and provincial ordinances and sabotaging government water projects that are injurious to the interest of services in relation to the operation of the provincial government-initiated water systems at Bubusawin, Yale Falls, Tagalipid and Inung Suran in Barangay Culandanum, Aborlan.

In refusing to leave the municipal mayor’s office, Ortega said he is not questioning the PB, but it should respect the due process of law in the execution of the suspension.

He also accused that what is happening to him is “political harassment” by Governor Jose Alvarez’s leadership.

“We are not questioning the decision of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Pero hindi maipresenta ang basis ng kanilang (They cannot present the basis of their…) assertion, so, my position as mayor is seeking the right procedure of the law,” Ortega said.

Ortega said he has appealed on January 11 to the Office of the President to review the decision of the PB as it violates his right to due process.

His appeal was based on Malacañang Palace Administrative Order No. 22, Series of 2011, the prescribing rules and regulations governing appeals to the Office of the President of the Philippines.

Ortega stated strongly that he will not leave his office unless a final decision is meted by higher offices or Malacañang.

“Una, mayroon akong appeal sa president [kaya hindi muna natin susundin ang order ng Sangguniang Panlalawigan]. Pangalawa, hinatulan nila ako na wala sa tamang proseso. Unang pagdinig pa lang hindi na dumating ang complainant, samantalang sa house rules nila nakalagay na ‘the failure of the complainant to appear in the preliminary conference shall be caused of dismissal of his complaint’ pero pinagbigyan pa rin ng Provincial Board. We will wait for the final decision of the higher offices,” he explained.

(First, I have an appeal to the President that is why I will not accept the order of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Second, they judged me without due process. In the first hearing, the complainant failed to attend, but in their house rules, it is stated that ‘the failure of the complainant to appear in the preliminary conference shall be caused of dismissal of his complaint’ but the Provincial Board still acceded. We will wait for the final decision of the higher offices.)

He reiterated he is being politically harassed and the grounds for his suspension are insufficient.

“Hindi talaga tama ang ginawa sa akin, 100 percent political harassment itong ginagawa sa akin, walang iba. Hinahanapan lang nila ako ng butas, wala naman akong kasalanan d’yan. Ang gusto ko lang malaman ay bakit siya nagagalit sa akin? Gusto ko iparating kay governor, bakit ako ang sinisisi sa water system? Hindi ko ‘yan pinapabayaan dahil amin ‘yan,” he said.

(What they are doing to me is not right, it is 100 percent political harassment, nothing else. They are looking for a hole against me, but I am not at fault there. What I want to know is why is he mad against me, I want to tell the governor, why am I being blamed for the water system? I am not neglecting it because it is ours.)

Also on January 11, Aborlan Vice Mayor Lito Tito took his oath of office as acting mayor in front of Acting Executive Judge Jocelyn Dilig. Councilor Marissa Zumarraga, on the other hand, took her oath as acting vice mayor.

Tito who remains in his office said he took the oath because he is following the order of the provincial government to assume as acting mayor.

“Sumusunod lang tayo sa order na inilabas ng Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Kapag hindi ko po sinunod ang batas ay ako rin ang malilintikan. Hindi ako nang-aagaw ng puwesto sa pagiging mayor, sumunod lang tayo. Kung ano man ang maging kalabasan nito bahala na, basta ako gagawin ko lang kung ano ang nakapaloob sa batas,” he explained.

(I am just following the order that the Provincial Board issued. If I will not follow the law, I will be the one who will suffer the consequence. I am not grabbing the mayor’s position, I am just following the order. Whatever happens here, I will just do what is in the law.)

Despite the confusion, Tito said all persons involved, including municipal officials, should remain calm until the problem is resolved.

He called on everyone not to panic, believing it can also be ironed out in the following days.

“Hindi natin alam kung ano ang kahihinatnan ng lahat pero sana maging kalmado lang ang lahat. Huwag mag-panic dahil tingin ko naman maso-solve lahat ng ito (We do not know what will happen but I hope everyone will keep calm about this. Don’t panic because the way I look at this, it will be resolved),” he added.

On October 15, the provincial government has imposed 60 days preemptive suspension to Mayor Ortega and assumed his office on December 17, 2018.

Aside from Ortega, Echague also filed charges against Tito, all staff of the municipal council, and all staff of the Municipal Economic and Development Office (MEDO) but they were immediately dismissed by the PB pursuant to the rules of procedure after he failed to state a cause of action and for lack of jurisdiction.

Echague said the P67-million water projects under the Water System Joint Management Memorandum of Agreement (WSJMMOA) between the Aborlan municipal government and the province on December 21, 2017, failed to deliver proper water supply and are totally inoperative.

In a separate phone interview also Monday, provincial legal officer Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta defended that they “followed due process” in serving the suspension order and said that Ortega should face the consequences of his inaction.

“Mas lalo siyang nababaon sa kaso kasi everyday na he stays there and he does the acts of the mayor. Every check and order that he signs, documents he executes are counted, very dangerous. Wala kaming kailangan na gawin, siya lang ang gumawa n’yan kaya he has to face the consequences,” Matta said.

(He’s burying himself deep in the case if he stays there and does the acts of the mayor. Every check and order that he signs, documents he executes are counted very dangerous. We don’t need to do anything; he was the only one who did it so has to face the consequences,” Matta said.

In addition, Matta said that they will release an official statement regarding Ortega’s case.

Meanwhile, Ortega and Tito both said that they are in good terms despite the conflict in their duties.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.