Vocal mayor of Mindoro fishermen ordered suspended for graft

MANILA, Philippines – Romulo Festin, the mayor of San Jose, Mindoro, hometown of the 22 fishermen whose fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese fishing vessel in the West Philippine Sea, has been ordered suspended by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

The Sandiganbayan found "valid information" on 3 graft cases lodged against Festin in 2016.

This was confirmed to Rappler by Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, who said they had received the Sandiganbayan's order but have yet to implement the 90-day preventive suspension order.

"We will serve it as soon as SILG (Secretary of the Interior and Local Government) signs the implementation order," Malaya said in a text message on Monday, June 17.

Festin was ordered suspended by the anti-graft court's 3rd Division over 3 graft cases related to the computerization of his town's records on taxes, the purchase of multi-cabs, and the payments to private individuals without daily time records.

In Festin's defense, his lawyer said the cases against him were hatched by his "political nemesis on the basis of pure political reasons and mere political harassment."

Festin has not been found guilty, but the Sandiganbayan has found the graft cases against him to be "sufficient in form and substance."

"[T]he preventive suspension is not a penalty…Taking into consideration the public policy involved in preventively suspending a public officer charged under a valid information, the protection of public interest will definitely prevail over the private interest of the accused," the Sandiganbayan Division said in its May 22 resolution penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.

Festin has been vocal about the boat-sinking incident which almost killed 22 of his fishermen constituents. He has called on President Rodrigo Duterte to speak out against China.

The boat of the 22 fishermen were sunk and abandoned by a Chinese fishing vessel near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea on June 9. They were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.

Ipakita natin 'yung ating muscle. May muscle din tayo kahit sa bibig. Kung wala man tayong muscle sa giyera eh sa bunganga man lang at sa tinatawag na proper court kung saan dapat dalhin 'yan,” Festin said Friday, June 14.

(Let’s show our muscle. We also have muscles in our mouth, even if we don’t have muscles for war. Let’s at least use those in our mouth and bring this to the proper court where it should be brought.)

– Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.