TUGUEGARAO, Philippines – Two mayors are holding out in this capital city north of Metro Manila, their circumstances reminiscent of what has just happened in Makati City, the country’s richest city, involving the son of the Vice President.
Here in Tuguegarao, Cagayan, Jefferson Soriano, a retired police general, claims that the Court of Appeals (CA) has reinstated him as mayor 8 months after the Ombudsman dismissed him for grave misconduct.
However, lawyer Engelbert Caronan, the vice mayor who has assumed the mayoralty, refuses to step down because he has yet to be served the CA decision.
Their situation resembles the case of Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr, who was placed by the Ombudsman under preventive suspension, but got a temporary restraining order from the CA. The acting mayor, Vice Mayor Romulo Peña, refused to step down for sometime despite Binay’s reinstatement. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the case.
On Tuesday, April 20, Soriano came to city hall, bringing with him a letter to Caronan that he was already retaking his post, and the 18-page decision of the appellate court, which, he said, reinstate him as the “duly elected mayor of Tuguegarao.”
The decision – which downgraded Soriano’s offense from grave to “simple” misconduct – also ordered that Soriano be paid his unclaimed salaries and benefits for the past 5 months.
Top city councilor Benben de Guzman II, assumed the post of Caronan’s vice mayor, has since returned to being councilor. The city currently does not have a vice mayor.
In a phone interview, Guzman told Rappler that, upon reading the “reasonableness” of the decision, he opted to vacate his post as vice mayor.
Soriano initially granted Rappler’s request for an interview but cancelled it.
‘Not yet served’
Soriano was dismissed for issuing a business permit to a flea market operator and closing 4 streets for the city fiesta without the approval of the city council.
The complaint was filed by Councilor Maila Ting Que, daughter of Delfin Ting, whom Soriano defeated in the 2013 election. She said neither she, the Ombudsman, nor the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has received a copy of the CA’s decision bringing Soriano back in office.
Que said the CA appeared to have made Soriano “guilty of a lesser crime,” thus lessening his sanction to a suspension of 3 months only.
She questioned why the CA changed the degree of the case filed. “Does the Court of Appeals have the right to change kung ano ang kaso (what is the case)?”
Que said they will file a motion for reconsideration after receiving a copy of the decision.
In its joint order in December 2014 on the motion for reconsideration filed by Soriano and his city administrator Ronald Brillantes, the Ombudsman reiterated that the arguments and claims of Soriano and Brillantes, both lawyers, were dismissed due to lack of merit. To some extent, their arguments were even “imaginative” and “brazen,” the Ombudsman said.
The Ombudsman said the requirement of prior authorization by the city council is a legal imperative, contrary to Soriano’s opinion that the city council’s approval is merely matter of “prudence” and “courtesy.”
Thus, the Ombudsman said, Soriano committed abuse of authority and grave misconduct.
Soriano, who is close to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was also involved in the rubber boat and secondhand chopper scam of the Philippine National Police. – Rappler.com
Jefferson Soriano (left) photo from his official Facebook page
Engelbert Caronan (right) photo from PRO2 Facebook page