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Banner Story. RTC Judge suspends Marawi schools’ officials

Those were the days when foes were
still friends. FILE
MAS YAHYA, FRANK E. DOSDOS, JR. and PHIL PA-ALAN
Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, October 31, 2015

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Lanao del Sur, 12th Judicial Region, Branch 8, preventively suspended two Marawi schools’ division officials for graft and corruption cases, even as they asserted that only the Ombudsman, and not the RTC Judge, could suspend them.

Last October 20, the RTC Acting Presiding Judge Rasad G. Balindong issued an order preventively suspending Anna Zenaida A. Unte, OIC District-In-Charge, and Noraida S. Casan, Assistant District Supervisor for graft and corruption cases for three months effective November 1.

The Court Order set an arraignment on November 3 at 8:30 AM.

The court ruling suspending the two DepEd officials is an off shoot of the resolution of the motion to quash Information, motion to place accused under preventive suspension, and motion for inhibition filed in relation to Criminal Case No. 7467-15 and Criminal Case No. 7468-15, for violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019, otherwise known as “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act” in People of the Philippines, plaintiff, versus Anna Zenaida A. Unte and Noraida S. Casan, accused.

The court noted that there are three incidents to resolve, to wit: Motion to Quash the Informations, Motion to Place Accused Under Preventive Suspension and Motion for Inhibition. The court added that the first two, motion to quash and motion for preventive suspension, were heard on October 7, 2015. The court continued that after a full-blown hearing on the two incidents, the accused at 10:00 in the morning, filed a second motion for inhibition.

On the motion to quash, the court said that the accused’s ground to quash the informations is: “That the officer who filed the informations had no authority to do so” (Section 3 (d). Rule 117. Rules of Court). The court continued, “They argued that Pendatun C. Abubacar, Associate Provincial Prosecutor (On Detail) is not authorized to file the informations. Associate Prosecutor II Hashreen T. Caudang Lucman is not the right official to approve the informations. Associate Provincial Prosecutor Hanaphi A. Malawani is not authorized to complete the preliminary investigation and to resolve the accused’s motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated March 30, 2015.”

The court said, ”After the arguments of the accused’s counsels and that of the complainant’s counsel, the court asked Assistant Prosecutor Flerida Asia V. Boloto-Macaraya whether or not Prosecutor Abubacar was authorized to file the information and whether or not Prosecutor Lucman was authorized to approve the informations, she answered, they are authorized to , file the information and to approve the information, respectively. She was asked if Prosecutor Malawani was authorized to complete the preliminary investigation and to resolve the accused’s motion for reconsideration and she answered, he is authorized.”

The court said, “Provincial and City Prosecutors and their Assistants and other officers as may be authorized by law are authorized to conduct preliminary investigations (Section 2 (a) and (c). Rule 112, Rules of Court). The informations were approved by Prosecutor Lucman, the Officer in-Charge of the office of the City Prosecutor that time.”

On the motion for preventive suspension, the court said. “The law is: “Any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act or under Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code or for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property whether as a simple or as a complex offense and in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office. Should he be convicted by final judgment, he shall lose all retirement or gratuity benefits under any law, but if he is acquitted, he shall be entitled to reinstatement and to the salaries and benefits which he failed to receive during suspension, unless in the meantime administrative proceedings had been filed against him.

In the event that such convicted officer, who may have already been separated from the service, has already received such benefits, he shall be liable to restitute the same to the Government.” (Section 13. R.A. No. 3019, As Amended by B.P. Blg. 195, March 16, 1982)

The court stressed, “It is a ministerial duty of the court to issue an order of suspension upon determination of the validity of the information filed before it. Once the information is found to be sufficient in form and substance, the court is bound to issue and order of suspension as a matter of course, and there seems to be no ifs and buts about it. It is not a penalty because it is not imposed as a result of judicial proceedings. In fact, if acquitted, the official concerned shall be entitled to reinstatement and to the salaries and benefits which he failed to receive during the suspension (Bayot v. Sandiganbayan, 128 SCRA 383).

Actually, the hearing on October 7, 2015 was a pre-suspension hearing. The accused had been given fair and adequate opportunity to challenge the validity of the criminal proceedings against them. The validity of the informations is upheld.”

On the motion for inhibition, the court stressed, “Honestly, the “strictly no follow up of cases” policy is not applicable in Lanao del Sur and Marawi Ciity. Litigants, their relatives and friends and even lawyers follow up cases. The complainants followed up their cases. The accused too and their relatives followed up their cases. All of them were advised to see their lawyers to address their concerns. Whenever the Acting Presiding Judge sees a person or persons inside the office, he used to call the attention of the staff to attend to, assist him/her/them knowing that follow up of a case/cases is the intention. The Acting Presiding Judge sees to it that he is in control of the proceedings in every case he tries/hears and in whatever court. When on September 9, 2015 he did not allow accused’s counsel to further argue on their motion for inhibition, it is because the motion is very exhaustive, it is a 6-page motion. The opposing counsel was made to orally comment on it, not a written comment to avoid waste of time/delay. When he said, “I have no interest in the instant case”, the Judge simply means he is merely doing his job and can handle the cases fairly and justly.

Denial of the accused’s motions does not sufficiently prove bias and prejudice to disqualify the Judge. Their other motion, Motion to Suspend Proceedings/Remand the Records to the Office of the City Prosecutor to complete the preliminary investigation had been granted. When the resolution which was adverse to them came out, they opted not to elevate it to the reviewing authority. If an appeal was taken via Petition for Review, there would have been at least a 60-day suspension of proceedings. They opted not to avail of the remedy.”

Meanwhile, accused Anna Zenaida Unte told the New Ranao Star by phone that only the Ombudsman can preventively suspend her and her co-accused.

She also said that they have filed a case before the Ombudsman against complainant Mona Macatanong and Presiding Judge Rasad Balindong bur did not give details.

The New Ranao Star

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