Iloilo City mayor survives Ombudsman complaints

(A. Almacen photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The Office of the Ombudsman recently junked 3 complaints filed by former employees of the Iloilo City government against Mayor Jerry Treñas for lack of sufficiency.

The mayor’s office on Tuesday, June 13, received the resolutions approved by Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Cornelio Somido, as officer-in-chief for Ombudsman Samuel Martires, based on recommendations made by Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente.

Two criminal and administrative complaints were filed by former City Civil Registrar’s Office (CCRO) head Romeo Cesar Manikan, and another filed by former City Health Office (CHO) chief Bernard Caspe.

The first resolution, which Somido approved on May 8, was filed by Manikan in September 2019 against the mayor and CCRO assistant head Cherie Ampig.

Manikan alleged that Treñas and Ampig violated Article 177 (Usurpation of Authority or Official Functions) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and that they acted with Grave Misconduct and Grave Abuse of Authority.

He referred to the issuance of a Detail Order by the mayor and Ampig, which led to the transfer of a bookbinder from the CCRO to the City General Services Office (CGSO) at the Calajunan dumpsite in Mandurriao district.

The transfer was enforced even if Manikan was still the CCRO department head on the date.

Esteral was sacked in September 2020 for insubordination but was tagged as preventively suspended in April 2021 after reporting to work despite his dismissal from the service.

The Ombudsman found no probable cause to charge Treñas and Ampig for violating Art. 177 of the RPC, citing a Memorandum Order designating the latter as officer-in-charge of the CCRO when Esteral was recommended to be transferred.

The Ombudsman also cited that Treñas was only acting on Ampig’s recommendation.

These bases also led the anti-graft prosecution to reject Manikan’s claims of Grave Misconduct and Grave Abuse of Authority, emphasizing that Treñas and Ampig were working well within their official functions.

“[T]here is no showing that [Ampig] was in bad faith or had any criminal intent to usurp the functions of complainant. It bears stressing that under Memorandum Order No. CMO 19-22-C, respondent Ampig’s designation as Officer-In-Charge had no specific duration as it indicated that it is effective ‘until revoked’. The record is bereft of any evidence showing the revocation of respondent Ampig’s official designation,” the resolution read.

“Complainant admitted that the mayor has the authority to approve the movements or transfers of all employees or personnel of the local government unit, but watered it down by stating that it is not the mayor’s official function to give consent to the detail of employees assigned in the CCRO to another department[,]unit[, or] agency as this function pertains only to the City Civil Registrar as the Recommending Authority. Assuming arguendo that this is true, it is worth mentioning that respondent Treñas signed Esteral’s detail in his capacity as the Approving Authority and not the Recommending Authority.”

The second case filed by Manikan, which was approved by Somido on May 10, involved City Legal Office (CLO) head Edgardo Gil as the mayor’s co-accused relative to Manikan’s preventive suspension in November 2019.

The suspension stemmed from a complaint filed against Manikan by a certain Cristy Joy Sandoval, in relation to his duties as CCRO chief.

Manikan also alleged that the mayor publicly warned him and other then-city officials to resign for allegedly actively campaigning for the mayor’s 2019 election rival, former mayor Jose Espinosa III.

He specifically cited Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and Sections 4(A)(a), 4(A)(b), and 4(A)(c) of Rep. Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

Sec. 3(e) of Rep. Act No. 3019 penalizes the act of “Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

Sec. 4(A), subsections (a), (b), and (c), of Rep. Act No. 6713, provides for public officials and employees to observe the standards of commitment to public interest, professionalism, and justness and sincerity.

Administrative violations claimed against the mayor and the city’s chief lawyer, meanwhile, included Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, Grave Misconduct, Inefficiency and Incompetence in the Performance of Official Duties, Oppression, and Violation of Existing Civil Service Laws and Rules of Serious Nature.

Manikan alleged that he was not afforded due process as he was not able to examine and respond to the complaint against him, as well as the lack of preliminary investigation.

But the Ombudsman said that it found nothing in the complaint nor in its supporting documents any basis to charge Treñas and Gil with the said violations.

“There is, however, nothing in the complaint and its supporting documents showing that either of respondents persuaded, induced, or influenced another public officer to perform an act, or that they allowed themselves to be persuaded, induced, or influenced to commit an act which constitutes a violation of rules and regulations, or an offense in connection with his official duty,” they stated in the second complaint’s resolution.

“Complainant relied on mere allegations, unsupported by any other convincing evidence. Reliance on mere allegations, conjectures and suppositions, however, will leave an administrative complaint with no leg to stand on. After all, basic is the rule that mere allegation is not equivalent to proof and charges based on mere suspicion, speculation or conclusion cannot be given credence,” they added.

The last of the three cases against Treñas, filed by Caspe in 2020, was approved by the deputy ombudsman on May 10 with former job-order employee, Khrystyl Marie Lampa, as co-accused.

Caspe alleged violations of Rep. Act No. 6713, the 2017 Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, and of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and Grave Misconduct.

Lampa filed a complaint against him for alleged gross immorality and grave abuse of authority, stating that the doctor, while she was a Nursing Assistant at the Arevalo District Health Center where he served as the center’s chief at the time in 2011, flirted with her while he was married.

Lampa also alleged that she was only one of Caspe’s purported lovers.

Caspe argued that he was deprived of due process as he did not undergo preliminary investigation and that there was no substantial evidence to grant the complaint against him.

The doctor also alleged that the mayor continued to threaten, coerce, and oppress those who had actively engaged in former mayor Espinosa’s ‘Pag-Ulikid’ program, and that he was oppressed when he was excluded from the city’s COVID-19 Task Force as CHO chief.

The political allegations against the mayor were dismissed, pointing to the job-order employee’s administrative complaint against the former CHO chief.

Ultimately, it was found that there was no substantial proof to charge Treñas and Lampa because there was no substantial evidence against them, and likewise shunning the allegations on the lack of due process.

“Assuming that respondent Treñas’ comments to the media that he will file cases against the employees, including complainant, who campaigned for the former Mayor are true, the same do not necessarily mean that he was incapable of deciding the case without bias. The administrative complaint was filed by respondent Lampa. Respondent Treñas, as the Mayor, is the disciplining authority in a local government unit. Bias and partiality cannot be presumed. In administrative proceedings, no less than substantial proof is required,” the resolution read.

“In this case, complainant [Caspe] was informed of the complaint and charges. He was given the opportunity to be heard and to adduce his evidence. Complainant was also able to appeal the subject Notice of Charge and Decision to the CSC. The formalities usually attendant in court hearings need not be present in an administrative investigation, as long as the parties are heard and given the opportunity to adduce their respective sets of evidence,” it remarked about the due process allegations.

Treñas in a statement on Wednesday expressed relief over the Ombudsman’s dismissal of the complaints.

“I am elated that the Ombudsman cases filed by Dr. Caspe and Mr. Manikan have been dismissed. In public service, we face a lot of challenges but I always believe that the truth will prevail in the end,” the mayor said in his statement.