Tuguegarao mayor suspended a 3rd time

CAGAYAN, Philippines – The anti-graft court has again ordered the suspension of Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano, this time over his alleged involvement in the anomalous purchase of rubber boats amounting to P131.5 million when he was chair of the bids and awards committee (BAC) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

This would be Soriano’s 3rd suspension since assuming office in June 2013. He was ordered suspended over another criminal case and an administrative case.

The latest suspension order came after the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan junked his petition to dismiss a 90-day suspension he had yet to serve.

In the decision, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler, the Sandiganbayan affirmed its earlier ruling to suspend Soriano from office. The court denied his request that the pending 90-day suspension be credited to the 109 excess “illegal” suspension days he served when he was earlier dismissed by the Ombudsman but was reinstated by the Court of Appeals (CA) 7 months after.

Pending suspension

The Sandiganbayan already issued a preventive suspension order on February 28, 2014, against Soriano over the rubber boats scam.

But the said suspension was not served because he was still suspended over the secondhand helicopter controversy of the PNP.

Still, the suspension was not served after he reassumed office in May 13, 2014. Two months later, he was dismissed from office by the Ombudsman over an administrative case filed by his political rival, Maila Ting Que.

He was reinstated in April 2015 after the CA decided that he only committed simple misconduct instead of grave misconduct.

The appellate court said Soriano should have only been suspended for 90 days instead of being dismissed.

Two different charges

In its decision on November 2, the Sandiganbayan said Soriano cannot use the excess days he served during his dismissal because those were connected to a different case.

“The administrative case against accused Soriano involving the conduct of the Presyo Agawid (flea market) in Tuguegarao City during his incumbency as City Mayor, and the present case involving the procurement of rubber boats by the PNP, where he was BAC Chairperson, are completely unrelated,” the decision reads. “Thus, the excess suspension in the administrative case cannot be applied to the suspension pendent lite in the present case.”

In his appeal, Soriano said the “preventive suspension for an unreasonable length of time is tantamount to inflicting injustice” to him and his constituents.

But the Sandiganbayan countered that if Soriano feels aggrieved that he was suspended for a period longer that the corrected penalty by the CA, he should not bring the alleged injustice to the anti-graft court but “before the CA where the case involving his dismissal was resolved.”

The Sandiganbayan also noted that Soriano was actually paid his salaries and other benefits covering the excess suspension days.

On Wednesday, November 18, Soriano told Rappler that he was still holding office because the Sandiganbayan order had not been implemented yet by Cagayan Governor Alvaro Antonio 16 days after the resolution was promulgated.

The resolution said Antonio is requested to inform the Sandiganbayan of the action he has taken 15 days upon receipt of the order. Antonio has yet to reply to Rappler's inquiry.

Should Soriano be suspended, Vice Mayor Engelbert Caronan will assume the mayoralty, while Councilor Bienvenido De Guzman II will serve as acting vice mayor. Rappler.com