Sandiganbayan suspends Quezon City Councilor Roderick Paulate

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan's 7th Division ordered the "prompt" suspension of Quezon City Councilor Roderick Paulate over a pending graft case for allegedly having some 30 ghost employees on his office's payroll.

"Accused Roderick Mendenilla Paulate is hereby ordered suspended from office and...is directed to cease and desist from further performing and/or exercising the functions, duties, and privilege of his position as Member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Quezon City," the anti-graft court said.

Associate Justices Zaldy Trespeses, Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta, and Georgina Hidalgo ordered Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to implement the order and submit a report on actions taken within 5 days.

Paulate's suspension will last 90 days, from the start of the order's enforcement.

Paulate is facing one count of graft and multiple counts of falsification of public documents. He is accused of pocketing P1.109 million in taxpayers' money from July to November 2010 by claiming these were the salaries of some 30 ghost employees. 

Prosecutors said Paulate's staff prepared documents such as personal data sheets for the 30 ghost employees. These were then endorsed to the city's Office of the Vice Mayor for approval, along with certification that the employees completed 40 hours of service per week.

Paulate's driver and liaison officer Vicente Bajamunde was also implicated in the case as he allegedly collected the salaries of the ghost employees by using undated authorization letters.

Paulate opposed the suspension order, arguing that the Court of Appeals reversed the Office of the Ombudsman's ruling against him in a related administrative case as there was insufficient evidence.

Paulate also said suspending him would serve no purpose as the Ombudsman had already completed its investigation. He added that the Local Government Code of 1991 also prohibits suspension of local officials 90 days before an election. The 2019 elections are set for May 13, with Paulate running for Quezon City vice mayor.

The Sandiganbayan, however, rejected the councilor's arguments. The court cited Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which mandates the suspension of public officials facing corruption charges.

The Sandiganbayan also said that as an incumbent official, Paulate "logically possesses influence."

"This is a reality that we cannot ignore, hence, the legal presumption that unless the accused is suspended, he may frustrate his prosecution or commit further acts of malfeasance or do both," the court said. – Rappler.com