TWO Puerto Princesa City tourism officials have been suspended for 90 days by the Sandiganbayan based on a pending criminal case alleging conspiracy with other defendants in soliciting and receiving donations and gifts from city businesses and individuals.
The anti-graft court’s Sixth Division swept aside the contention of Tourism Operations Officer Michie Meneses and Tourism Operations Assistant Joyce Enriquez that placing them under preventive suspension has been mooted after the Court of Appeals earlier dismissed administrative charges against them for grave misconduct.
The defendants also argued that a suspension at this point of the proceedings would be improper since the prosecution and the defense have already completed presentation of evidence, thereby removing the possibility that they can still commit actions to frustrate their prosecution for the crime charged.
Based on the case filed in 2017, Meneses and Enriquez were named co-accused of City Tourism Department chief Aileen Cynthia Amurao for illegally sending solicitation letters for sponsorship of Puerto Princesa’s tourism activities.
In its resolution dated September 5, 2019 suspending Amurao for three months, the Sandiganbayan noted that private complainants executed affidavits stating that part of the donations ended up in the private bank account of the city tourism chief.
On the other hand, Meneses and Enriquez were accused of taking advantage of their public positions to solicit cash and donations in kind from tourism-oriented private entities.
This part of the allegation, the court said, falls under “fraud upon the government” which is one of the grounds for mandatory suspension of a public official together with violation of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and fraud involving government funds of property.
“The Court finds that all the requisites for the suspension pendente lite of accused Meneses and Enriquez exist. As far as the Court is concerned, there is no question as to the validity of the information,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Even so, the court clarified that both defendants are “still entitled to the constitutional presumption of innocence as their culpability has not been proven.”
On the defense argument that the Court of Appeals has thrown out administrative charges against them, the Sandiganbayan held that the proceedings before it is distinct and separate from that of the other court.
“The dismissal of the administrative cases against accused Meneses and Enriquez is distinct and has no effect on the criminal case. Both cases do not affect each other and may proceed independently of each other,” the COA said.