MANILA, Philippines – Pangasinan 5th District Representative Amado Espino Jr insists that his suspension as ordered by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan is "not penal in character but merely a preventive measure before final judgment."
"This preventive suspension was bound to happen as a matter of legal procedure, even as the trial proper has not even started," Espino said in a statement sent to media on Friday, September 9.
On Wednesday, September 7, the court's 6th division ordered Espino's 90-day suspension. Espino, longtime governor of Pangasinan until this year, is facing charges for allegedly allowing illegal black sand mining operations in his province in 2011.
In 2014, the Environmental Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Espino, his longtime aide Raffy Baraan, Pangasinan Housing and Urban Development Coordinating officer Alvin Bigay, and others over black sand mining operations in the capital town Lingayen.
State investigation showed that the local government in 2011 granted a small scale mining permit to Alexandra Mining, even if it is not a registered contractor with the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board. Espino was already governor at this time.
The gulf of Lingayen, the town where the mining operation was based, is "an environmentally critical area" by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1258 issued in 1998.
Sabangan – among the barangays in the protected area – was the pilot area of the negotiated contract for soil remediation activities between the local government and Alexandra.
The area is part of a 184-hectare reserve meant for "eco-tourism and other sustainable development activities and projects."
Espino eyed an eco-tourism complex with two 18-hole golf courses at par with international standards in the area, developing a plan for the site in June 2007 when he assumed office.
In his statement on Friday, Espino explained that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the golf course project in his province "after [a] long tedious process" and "actual field validations" by the environment department.
"[The issuance of the ECC] means that all actions of the Province of Pangasinan within that contested area, have been lawful and in faithful compliance with existing environmental laws, rules, and regulations," he added.
Amid the suspension, Espino said he is still confident that "truth and justice will prevail."
"But even as we insist on our innocence, the charges being pure fabrications and politically motivated, we have no choice but to go through this long and tedious judicial process to clear our names," he added.
He also blamed the "dirty game called politics" for the criminal cases filed against him, Baraan, and Bigay.
"In the run up to the...elections in May 2016, the same case was pursued with even more vigor and vicious media projection after former congressman Mark Cojuangco announced in February 2014 that he was running for governor," Espino said of the case first filed before the Ombudsman in late 2012.
But the congressman said the people of Pangasinan "ignored the black propaganda" and elected his son Amado Espino III as governor over Mark Cojuangco.
Espino himself won over Cojuangco's wife and then reelectionist Kimi Cojuangco in the 2016 elections as representative of the 5th district of Pangasinan.
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.