Sandigan suspends Naga City mayor
CEBU, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has ordered a 90-day preventive suspension against Naga City Mayor Valdemar Chiong in connection with his pending graft case over the alleged irregular issuance of a business permit in 2014.
The anti-graft court’s Sixth Division directed the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to implement the suspension order.
The court found no weight on Chiong’s argument that there is no longer a necessity to place him under suspension in order to prevent him from possibly intimidating witnesses or tampering potential evidence.
Chiong had earlier argued that both the prosecution and the defense were already done with gathering their respective evidence and witnesses for the case.
Chiong also said his suspension will affect the delivery of services to the residents of Naga City, thus, “nullifying the will of the people who elected him.”
The Sixth Division, however, maintained that Chiong’s suspension is mandatory under Section 13 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Under Section 13 of RA 3019, an incumbent public official, “shall be suspended from office” if he or she is charged with a valid case information of a crime under RA3019 or under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) or for any offense involving public funds or property or fraud against government.
The court pointed out that the validity of the case information against Chiong has already been affirmed when he was arraigned on April 26, 2018.
“Once the information is found to be sufficient in form and substance, then the court must issue the order of suspension as a matter of course. There are no ifs and buts about it,” it added quoting a previous Supreme Court ruling (Socrates vs Sandiganbayan).
Although he finds it unnecessary, Chiong said he will heed the order out of respect to the court.
Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman last year, the graft case against Chiong stemmed from his issuance of a mayor’s business permit to Petronas Energy Philippines Inc. despite the firm’s lack of the pre-requisite Fire Safety Inspection Certificate from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
The ombudsman said the permit was issued by Chiong on April 7, 2014 even if RA 9514 or the Fire Code of the Philippines clearly states that no occupancy permit, business permit or permit to operate shall be issued “without securing a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate from the Chief BFP, or the duly authorized representative.” — Philippine Star News Service