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On preventive suspension

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PLAYING PRANKS on April Fools Day has its price. In Angeles City, police officers of Station 5 paid a high price for the April Fools joke that they pulled in an exclusive subdivision. Tension flared up as uniformed police officers, in conspiracy with a Korean national,  served an alleged  warrant of arrest to a Korean national. Worse, the police officers “arrested” the Korean national and brought him with them aboard the official PNP Station 5 motor vehicle. A video of the prank was uploaded in social media sites, sparking nasty comments on the hoax arrest.

As it is, such acts of the police officers clearly show an utter disregard to the rule of law , not to mention betrayal of public trust. One who has been entrusted with a public office whether appointed or elected owns to the public the highest degree of responsibility. It is a basic tenet in law that a public office is a public trust. All government officials and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency and act with patriotism, and lead modest lives. The joke perpetrated by the said police officer is unbecoming of a police officer.

In order that a proper investigation may be conducted on the police officers and civilians who participated in the prank, a preventive suspension is necessary.

The same is true in the case of Barangay officials in Barangay Malabanias, Angeles City. The Sangguiang Panlungsod of Angeles City, through Vice Mayor Vicenta Vega-Cabigting, issued a joint order imposing a  60 and 30 days preventive suspension against Punong Barangay Reynaldo Gueco and other Barangay Officials. Such preventive suspension is within the scope of authority of the Sangguiniang Panlungsod and within limits of existing law and jurisprudence.

To clarify, preventive suspension pending investigation is not violative of the Constitution because it is not a penalty. There are two (2) kinds of preventive suspension: the first is the preventive suspension pending investigation, and the second is the preventive suspension pending appeal where the penalty imposed by the disciplining authority is either suspension or dismissal,but after the review, the official is exonerated.

Preventive suspension is a measure intended to enable the disciplining authority to investigate charges against respondent by preventing the latter from intimidating or in any way influencing witnesses against him. If the investigation is not finished and a decision is rendered within the period, the suspension will be lifted and the respondent will be automatically be reinstated. If after investigation, respondent is found innocent of the charges and is exonerated, he would be reinstated.

Currently, the constituents of Barangay Malabanias, Angeles City are asking who is the Punong Barangay of their barangay. Evidently, the Punong Barangay is still the incumbent and duly elected Punong Barangay; however, he cannot act as such until the preventive suspension is served. If the incumbent elected official has nothing to hide, then, it is only prudent to allow the investigation to run its natural course.

Defying a lawful order duly issued by the Sangguniang Panlungsod would amount to insubordination. One must take note that no one is above the law. Furthermore, the question being raised that the DILG cannot serve a lawful order of an investigative body is misplaced. It is a basic tenet that local governments are under the control and supervision of the DILG, therefore, the act of a duly appointed official in serving an order of suspension is within the bounds of his authority.

Invoking Section 63 of the Local Government Code of 1991 otherwise known as Republic Act No. 7160 is appropriate. This means that the City Mayor can issue an executive order to impose the administrative sanction of preventive suspension. Also, the DILG can also implement the same since local government units are under its control and supervision. Statutory construction mandates that laws should be harmonised.

Furthermore, the maximum period of preventive suspension is only ninety days. The law abhors indefinite suspension of public officials and employees, whether they are presidential appointees or not. Once the allowable suspension has been served, the public employees must be automatically reinstated.

In the present case of the Punong Barangay of Malabanias it is prudent to allow the investigating authority to conduct the mandatory notice and hearing. Acting as a quasi – judicial body, the Sangguiang Panlungsod, to weight the evidence presented and decide on the required standard based on substantial evidence. If the outcome appears to be not within the bounds of existing laws and jurisprudence, the remedy is to appeal the same.

Preventive suspension is nothing to be scared of, as long as public officials are clean as a whistle. As they say, there is nothing to fear when there is nothing to hide.

(Atty. Willie B. Rivera is presently the City Administrator of Angeles City and a former four-term Councilor of the City. A lawyer by profession, Atty. Willie B. Rivera,obtained his Masters of Law (LLM) from the University of Sto. Tomas in 2016. He is presently the Managing Partner of the RIVERA & RIVERA LAW OFFICES.)

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