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Malay town mayor, 10 other officials sued over Boracay pontoon fee

AKLAN, Philippines – The acting town mayor, vice mayor, and the Sangguniang Bayan members of Malay, Aklan are facing administrative charges after a Boracay journalist filed a complaint against them before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas on Monday, January 13 over Boracay's pontoon fee collection.

Noel Cabobos of Todo Media Services filed his complaint in Iloilo City against Malay acting mayor Frolibar Bautista along with acting vice mayor Nino Carlos Cawaling, town councilors Dalidig Sumndad, Lloyd Maming, Danilo Delos Santos, Maylynn Graf, Nickie Cahilig, Dante Pagsuguiron and Junthir Flores. He also included in his complaint Liga ng mga Barangay president Ralf Tolosa and Sangguniang Kabataan municipal federation president Christine Hope Pagsuguiron.

Cabobos' complaint cited violations of Section 3 (a & e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and for grave abuse of authority and gross negligence for utter disregard of the law as provided by Section 130 and 132 of RA 7160 of the Local Government Code of 1991.

In the 7-page complaint, Cabobos said Bautista issued Executive Order No. 51 on December 5, 2019. EO 51 requires all watersports and sea sports operators involved in jetskiing, island hopping, fly fishing, helmet and scuba diving, banana boat riding, and sunset cruises to utilize the pontoon in boat stations 1 and 3 at White Beach.

The complaint said, "It was issued by Bautista with a premeditated design and purpose to gain upon the collection of P30 user's fee, which is highly anomalous without a local ordinance to implement the collection."

Cabobos added the acting town mayor presented a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) urging the watersports and sea sports operators to collect the pontoon fee even without an official receipt, and to enter into a contract with a private travel and tour company in the operation of pontoon, before he issued the EO.

"They (the watersports and sea sports operators) became blind followers of the order because they are somewhat hostaged by the local government. But after realizing the inconsistency of EO and its being contrary to law, the Boracay Water Sports Association passed a resolution declaring its opposition to the order," the complaint said.

Cabobos stressed, "the EO was never opposed by acting vice mayor Cawaling and the councilors, which is an act that constitutes gross negligence and a violation of RA 3019."

"The law is very clear in Section 132 of RA 7160 that the power to impose a tax, fee or charge or to generate revenue under this Code shall be exercised by the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned through an appropriate ordinance," the complaint read.

Following complaints from tourists and stakeholders, Boracay Inter-Agency Rehabilitation Management Group (BIARMG) general manager Natividad Berlandino directed Bautista on January 9 to stop the P30 pontoon fee collection until final approval of the Boracay task force could be determined.

Cabobos also asked for the preventive suspension of the local officials pending the investigation of the case, as well as a stoppage in the alleged collection of the pontoon fee.

As of this writing, Bautista has yet to receive a copy of the Ombudsman complaint. – Rappler.com