Perils of public service even at barangay level

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    WHILE the whole nation is trying to recover from just the initial devastation caused by the Taal volcano eruption, some Metro Manila cities are thankful for two reasons: they are richer than Batangas and Cavite, and are relatively far from the scene of destruction.

    Thus, local government units like San Juan City, Makati and Manila are quick in heeding the call for help from victims of the volcano eruption. Navotas, however, is busy with other things.

    Where does a barangay chairman go when faced with a serious problem? To his mayor, of course, being the father of his city or town. Thus, Chairman Wilfredo Mariano of Barangay Tangos South, Navotas City went to the mayor to ask his help about a kidnapping and serious illegal detention case filed against him by Rommel Sopera, a driver and employee of city hall.

    This quaint case started when on election day, May 13, 2019 a group of men arrived at Mariano’s barangay hall, saying they caught Sopera in the act of vote-buying, and they executed a citizens’ arrest. The group promptly left Sopera at the barangay hall after it became clear that barangay officials were capable of handling the case.

    Mariano did his job of processing the complaint, noting it down on the barangay blotter, and even assisted Sopera in writing his complaint-affidavit because the city hall employee — then wearing a T-shirt with the poster of Toby Tiangco — claimed that the group of men who brought him there also stole his cellphone and P8,200 cash from the P12,000 he had in his wallet.

    After helping Sopera and giving him water to drink, Mariano allowed him to go and even provided him with two barangay tanods as escort to where his motorcycle was parked. The barangay chairman did this because “there were no complainants” against the city hall driver.

    Mariano thought this ordinary episode in the day-to-day events in his barangay was over. So he was surprised that in July last year, he received a notice from the city prosecutor’s office that he had been sued for kidnapping, serious illegal detention and violation of the Omnibus Election Code by Sopera himself. Included as respondent were Atty. Rico J. de Guzman, a volunteer-lawyer of the PDP-Laban Party who was assigned in Navotas to provide legal assistance to their watchers and party staff, and one Rolando Morato. Mariano was perplexed because he did not know these people who were allegedly his co-conspirators in kidnapping Sopera.

    Now the barangay chairman is afraid of what could happen to him if the prosecutor decides to file the case in court because the charges alleged are serious. He believes that what happened was politically motivated, perhaps because he had stepped on the toes of some powerful people.

    As a last resort, Chairman Mariano wrote to President Duterte, DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano, and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to explain his side and seek their help. He knew that public service has its perils, but did not expect that it would be this harsh.