Sandiganbayan suspends Bacolod mayor

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has ordered the 90-day preventive suspension of Mayor Monico Puentevella over a graft case when he was still a congressman.

The 8-page decision, which was promulgated on Monday, September 28, was signed by Associate Justices Jose Hernandez, Alex Quiroz and Oscar Herrera Jr.

The anti-graft court has ordered Puentevella to be “suspended from his present position as mayor or from any other government position he may now or afterwards hold for a period of 90 days, effective immediately upon receipt and implementation of this resolution.”

“Accused public officer is directed to cease and desist from exercising the functions and privileges of his office for 90 days immediately upon receipt of this resolution,” the decision said.

Sandiganbayan further ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to implement the preventive suspension against Puentevella and to inform the court of the start and the end of the mayor’s suspension.

Graft case

Puentevella is facing graft charges on the alleged procurement of overpriced computers when he was still a congressman. He allegedly used P26 million ($555,000) from his Priority Development Assistance Fund to purchase the alleged overpriced information technology package for public schools in the city. The computer package was reportedly bought at P400,000 ($8,500) each.

Lawyer Ralph Sarmiento, counsel of Puentevella, said that they have yet to receive a copy of the decision. “We also had no way of verifying with the Sandiganbayan as it was already late this afternoon when we heard about it,” he added.

"But if it’s true, then it is just the beginning of another legal battle that the mayor is ready to take on. In fact, the mayor’s legal team had already planned for this scenario 3 years ago as soon as the Ombudsman came up with an unfavourable resolution against the mayor,” he said.

Sarmiento added that they still "a long way to go" as a suspension order is not yet immediately final and executory. Puentevella can still file a motion for reconsideration (MR) and even bring the matter to the Supreme Court should the mayor’s MR be denied by the Sandiganbayan.

Puentevella, for his part, said he will issue a statement after he receives a copy of the suspension order.

Earlier, the anti-graft court denied the motion for suspension that was filed by the state prosecutors after they failed to comply with Section 4, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court but it was immediately refiled.

In his defense, Puentevella filed an opposition to the motion. He stressed that the Sandiganbayan could no longer suspend him from his mayoralty position because the basis of his graft charges was when he was still a congressman.

The mayor also stressed that the Supreme Court has yet to issue a resolution on the Petition for Certiorari, which he had filed against the elevation of the graft case to the Sandiganbayan.

However, the anti-graft court cited in its decision that any public official accused of violating RA 3019 for a “simple or complex offense” should be put under preventive suspension. 

Photo from Monico Puentevella's Facebook page.

*USD 1 = P46.81