By Juan Escandor Jr.
PILI, Camarines Sur---With two mayors assuming and disposing of the function of the local chief executive of Pili, the capital town of Camarines Sur province, residents here are confused while the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has yet to issue its position on the issue.
The DILG provincial office here declined to give opinion regarding the assumption of two mayors in Pili town spawned by the suspension of the elected mayor here and the taking over by the vice mayor as the acting mayor.
Jane Ibo, a Pili resident, said the situation that there are two officials acting as mayor is confusing and it affects the government processes at the local government.
“It is confusing and the processing of papers at the local government is already affected. But we will wait what the DILG will do about this problem,” Ibo said.
Arnold Embuenga, a pedicab driver, said he cannot understand what is happening why there are two mayors in his town.
Pili Vice Mayor Rogelio Raymund Regondola has acted as mayor since June 9 to August 8 last year after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan imposed 60-day preventive suspension against elected Mayor Tomas Bongalanta Jr. over an administrative case filed by Punong Barangay Yolanda Beriña of Barangay New San Roque here.
The case pertains to Bongalonta hiring New San Roque Barangay Kagawad David Olaguera as personal driver/bodyguard of the Office of the Mayor which act the Sangguniang Panlalawigan found to have violated Section 7 of Article IX (B) of the Constitution which “disqualifies any elective official from being appointed or designated in any capacity to any public office or position during his tenure.”
Bongalonta in his argument cited the DILG Opinion No. 6 series of 2004 dated January 28, 2004 that stated that “Barangay Kagawad can be hired to work in government on job order basis.”
But the Sangguniang Panlalawigan declared the DILG Opinion No. 6 series of 2004 “invalid and without legal force and effect” saying that the Constitutional provision does not make any distinction.
“The distinction made by the DILG in its opinion will not override or rewrite the said Constitutional provision because it does not speak of any distinction,” the Sangguniang Panlalawigan said in its decision.
“It is basic in the rule of statutory construction that where the law does not distinguish, the courts or other government agencies, the DILG included, should not distinguish,” it added.
After the 60-day preventive suspension, Bongalonta reassumed his position as mayor starting Aug.9. However, on Oct. 19 a “90-day suspension pendente lite” was sustained by the Sandiganbayan and asked the Office of the Ombudsman to impose it on Bongalonta regarding a 2011 anti-graft case filed by municipal accountant Eileen Ceron whom he dismissed.
Regondola again took over as the acting mayor of Pili town while Bongolanta questioned the suspension order requested by the Sandiganbayan and imposed by the Ombudsman and brought the question to the Supreme Court and asked for status quo ante order.
Bongalonta was granted by the Third Division of the Supreme Court the status quo ante dated Dec. 6, 2017 on the case at the Sandiganbayan regarding the dismissal of Ceron. He returned to his office on Dec. 28, last year.
Meanwhile, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan issued a 6-month suspension order on Dec. 19, 2017 as a penalty imposed on Bongalonta regarding the case of hiring Barangay Kagawad Olaguera for “gross negligence, dishonesty, grave misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”
Regondola told Bicol Mail that he will continue to assume the function as acting mayor of Pili while the six-month penalty suspension by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is still to be served by Bongalonta.
He said the status quo ante order of the Supreme Court does not cover the administrative case filed at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Camarines Sur but the case filed at the Ombudsman which the Sandiganbayan is hearing.
Bongalonta maintained that the status quo ante order from the Supreme Court provides the legal basis of his re-assumption to office.
“I will overcome all the obstacles and cases in due time,” he said.