Pangasinan's Espino starts serving Sandiganbayan graft suspension

MANILA, Philippines – Pangasinan 5th District Representative Amado Espino Jr starts serving a 90-day preventive suspension order Thursday, December 15, in relation to a graft case involving illegal black sand mining when he was still governor of the province.

Espino was slapped with a 3-month suspension order by the Sandiganbayan, after he was charged with graft for issuing a small-scale mining permit to Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures. This allowed the company to extract black sand in the province in June 2011.

According to investigations by the Environmental Ombudsman, the issuance of the permit violated Presidential Proclamation No. 1258, which labeled Lingayen Gulf an environmentally critical area.

In an objection and a subsequent appeal before the anti-graft court, Espino earlier argued that only the House of Representatives has the power to suspend its members. The court, however, denied both appeals. (READ: Espino on suspension: Only 'preventive', not final)

The anti-graft court, as well as the Office of the Ombudsman, argued that the Supreme Court had earlier upheld its authority to suspend members of Congress. (READ: Ombudsman: Pangasinan's Espino not immune to suspension)

Espino, in a manifestation filed Wednesday, December 14, said that he is ready to voluntarily comply with the suspension order. The suspension is for 90 days.

He stressed, however, that complying with the order is not an admission of guilt or culpability. He will serve his suspension until March 15, 2017. 

The Office of the Speaker of the House has also been informed of his decision, Espino said.

Aside from the Pangasinan lawmaker, co-defendants include former provincial administrator Rafael Baraan, and provincial Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Officer Alvin Bigay. Alexandra Mining officials Cynthia Camara and Lolita Bolayog were also named private respondents. – Rappler.com