OLONGAPO CITY – “We will not step down!”
Thus said Olongapo City Mayor Rolen C. Paulino who along with Vice Mayor Aquilino Cortez, Jr., eight city councilors, a former councilor and five department heads are all subject of a six-month Suspension Order by the Office of the Ombudsman over alleged irregularity regarding the 25-year lease of government property to SM, the biggest mall operator in the country.
The officials have signified their intention to refuse the service of suspension of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) until the Court of Appeals have decided on their application for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).
Supporters gather in front of the city hall in anticipation of the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s serving of Notice of Suspension to the officials for simple misconduct.
Speaking before government workers and officials during Monday’s flag ceremony, Paulino said the Ombudsman’s decision to suspend them for six months over a simple misconduct was unfair.
“While we respect the rule of law, we will not step down until our appeal has been decided by the CA,” the two-termer mayor said.
Paulino, Cortez, councilors Noel Atienza, Linus Bacay, Benjamin Cajudo II, Edna Elane, Eduardo Guerrero, Alreuela Bundang-Ortiz, former councilor Ellen Dabu, ABC president Randy Sionzon, Ip representative Egmedio Gonzales Jr., as well as city administrator Mamerto Malabute, city planning chief TK Balde, city accountant Cristiflor Buduhan, city legal head Ana Florentino Sison, and city budget chief Joy Fernandez Cahilig were earlier ordered suspended for six months by the Office of Ombudsman for Simple Misconduct in relation to the city government’s lease of land to SM Prime Holdings, Inc. (SMPHI).
Paulino claimed the punishment over a minor procedural lapse was unjust.
“Such offense normally merits a penalty of a mere reprimand to one month suspension at the most, the mayor said. “Why impose six months suspension on us?” he asks.
Paulino clarified all the original charges filed against them have been dismissed by the Ombudsman. He appealed to the authorities to respect their decision as they want to wait for the CA’s decision on their appeal.
“We believe the decision to suspend us for six months was unfair but if the CA says otherwise, then we will follow, but not until the court rules on the TRO,” Paulino said.
Supporters of Mayor Paulino have started arriving and have massed infront of the city hall since morning after rumors floated around saying the DILG will serve the notice of suspension on Monday.
Some supporters even placed three coffins infront of the city hall, which Paulino followers say is a symbol that democracy in Olongapo is dead. Cortez, appealed to the crowd who for support as he reminded them of the year 1998 when he was with Sen. Dick Gordon, then Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chair, who was being ousted by an Administrative Order No. 1 of President Estrada.
The vice mayor, however, said the difference with that period is that now he is on the opposite side as he and other city officials attempt to fight what they consider an unfair order by the Ombudsman. Both Cortez and Paulino were formerly two of Gordon’s assistants at the SBMA.