By Jorge Hallare
LEGAZPI CITY --- Mayor Avelino “Billy” Ceriola of Malinao, Albay had been ordered dismissed from his post but he continues to refuse to vacate the office, according to a high ranking official of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Bicol.
Arnaldo Escober, assistant regional director of DILG-Bicol, said the Office of the Ombudsman gave the dismissal order in connection with the graft and administrative cases filed against Ceriola in 2013 by Municipal Councilor Irene Fajut for the alleged illegal operation of a cockpit arena that is owned by the mayor.
Fajut charged Ceriola with operating the cockpit arena located in Barangay Balading in Malinao without securing the necessary permits.
Ceriola, however, denied the allegation and said the case was part of dirty politics in Malinao that his political enemies have instigated.
Escober said the dismissal order against Ceriola was not served in 2014 after Ceriola lost his reelection bid to Alice Morales, the former mayor.
“But an ‘interested party’ of Malinao town followed up the dismissal order until it was personally served at the office of Ceriola Tuesday last week by the regional field officers of DILG-Bicol,” Escober disclosed.
According to the DILG official, the dismissal order became final and executory after the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court both denied Ceriola’s motions.
Escober said the Ombudsman had ordered Ceriola’s perpetual disqualification to hold office as mayor.
Ceriola was also banned from holding position in any government office or agency while all his benefits due him as a public official had been forfeited.
According to Ceriola, he would not vacate the Mayor’s Office as he is still awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court on the motion he had filed to suspend the dismissal order.
The DILG-Bicol office headed by Elena Pastor has already installed and recognized Vice Mayor Shirley Bilo to succeed Ceriola as the new mayor.
Bilo automatically becomes the new mayor as she garnered the highest votes for the vice mayoral post during the last local elections.
The position that was vacated by Bilo in the municipal council will be filled up through appointment by the governor of Albay.
“Bilo is mandated to hold office as the new mayor and perform all its functions or else she will be facing charges for not complying with the law on succession,” Escober added.
Although Ceriola is still occupying the mayor’s office, he is no longer performing the duties of the mayor.
On the other hand, Bilo is still occupying the office of the vice mayor inside the Sangguniang Bayan but she is now signing all the documents and transactions and discharging functions as the municipal mayor.
Chief Insp. Billy Bibat, acting chief of police in Malinao, said although there is “tension” obtaining between the rival parties, the situation in the municipal building is relatively “smooth and normal.”
He said he has assigned a police team inside the perimeter area of the municipal building to ensure peace and order.
Meanwhile, Escober said other field officers from DILG-Bicol had served the dismissal service on Mayor Melquiades “Mel” Gaite of Baao town in Camarines Sur last Monday but they are still waiting for the report of their personnel.
“This was after he [Mayor Gaite] allegedly allowed the rental of the public market in Baao to Lamvert Consolidated Complex for a period of 25 years without the knowledge of the Sangguniang Bayan members,” added Escober.