Hinabangan Mayor Elena Dieza has been placed under preventive suspension for alleged abuse of power, after the provincial board recommended it to Governor Reynolds Michael Tan.
The decision was pursuant to Section 60 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 which provides that an elective local official may be disciplined, suspended, or removed subject to specific grounds.
After heated deliberations, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan voted 7-5 in favor of recommending Dieza’s 60-day preventive suspension.
Board members Fe Tan-Arcales, Lee Zosa, Beethoven Bermejo, Luzviminda Nacario, Carlo Latorre, Ma. Elpa De Jesus, and Bernard Oñate voted to suspend Dieza, while board members Julius Mancol, Regina Rabuya, Miguelito Ayong, Alfredo Serrano, and Alvin Abejuela opposed it.
Tan imposed the preventive suspension since the elected official is a leader of a municipality. Under the Local Government Code of 1991, the governor has the power to suspend should there be grounds for administrative disciplinary action.
Cyril Casey Blanco of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Eastern Visayas told Rappler that it cannot give a comment on the issue as the regional office has yet to receive a copy of the decision, but he said that the Samar Provincial Board has the power to act as a quasi-judicial body.
Vice Mayor Clarito Rosal immediately took over as acting mayor after taking his oath of office before the governor on September 25.
‘Abuse of power’
Rosal had filed a series of administrative complaints against Dieza before the Samar Provincial Board, including alleged oppression, misconduct in office, and abuse of power.
Rosal cited Dieza’s order to withhold the salaries and additional remunerations of the members of the Sangguniang Bayan in a memorandum dated February 26, 2021.
Dieza had explained that she decided to withhold the salaries of the Sangguniang Bayan members due to the non-passage of Hinabangan’s annual budget for fiscal year 2021.
In response to Dieza’s explanation, Tan told reporters in a mix of Waray and English on September 27, “As a local chief executive myself, I know that we cannot withhold the salaries of permanent employees and elected officials without due process.”
Tan said that he swiftly acted on the preventive suspension order to keep Dieza her from influencing the Sangguniang Panlalawigan while her administrative case was being heard.
Dieza had argued that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan did not give her the chance to be heard, but Tan said Dieza had already submitted a letter to the provincial board, through Vice Governor Angelica Gomez, last August 25.
On June 1, Dieza wrote a letter to Rosal highlighting her order to release the salaries of the members of the Sangguniang Bayan from March to May 2021, but with an appeal to expedite the annual budget of Hinabangan.
“I’m not ashamed of what I did because I didn’t steal any money. All I did was ensure the budget gets enacted for the people to experience better service from us,” Dieza told reporters in Waray last September 25.
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan conducted a preliminary hearing on the complaints against Dieza on September 28.
The embattled mayor said the issue surrounding the Appropriation Ordinance had affected the entire town of Hinabangan, particularly her constituents, as it had been operating under a reenacted budget.
“I certified everything I communicated with them as urgent due to the pandemic, but they still kept on ignoring me. We should be helping each other out during these times especially now that we are facing calamities from time to time,” Dieza said.
Some members of the Sangguniang Bayan said they had been reluctant to approve the municipal government’s budget due to the inclusion of alleged questionable entries.
Sanggunian Bayan member Hector Amaro had claimed in a Facebook post on July 20 that there had been missing figures from the continuing appropriations in the town’s development fund from 2016 to 2020.
In response, Dieza alleged that the Sangguniang Bayan just wanted to have the budget redirected from the Office of the Mayor to the municipal council instead of passing through her office. – Rappler.com
Lance Paolo Lim is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship