THE Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas ordered the suspension for six months and one day of Labangon Barangay Captain Victor Buendia and three barangay officials, because of oppression.
It resulted from an administrative complaint filed last year by Pepito Pepito against them, after the barangay officials evicted him and demolished his stall in the Labangon Public Market in 2014.
The anti-graft office directed Mayor Michael Rama to implement the order.
Buendia said that Mayor Rama and his allies were out to get back at him, after his complaint led to the mayor’s preventive suspension for 60 days late last year.
Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer I Vivien Leigh Santiago-Lumangtad found Buendia, Barangay Councilor Ronald Dagatan, chief tanod Celerina de los Reyes and market administrator Lolita Lumibaw guilty of oppression because they acted “with force and intimidation” when they closed Pepito’s stall.
“Oppression has been defined as an act of cruelty, severity, unlawful exaction, domination or excessive use of authority,” she said.
“It is the misdemeanor committed by a public officer who, under his office, wrongfully inflicts upon any person any bodily harm, imprisonment or any other injury, or an act of subjecting another to cruel and unjust hardship. Respondent’s acts constitute oppression,” she added.
In an eight-page decision, Lumangtad said that Pepito had occupied a stall in the market through a contract of lease signed by Buendia.
The contract ended last Dec. 31, 2013 and was supposed to be renewable unless there were violations the lessee had committed.
However, on Jan. 3, 2014, Pepito was informed by Lumibaw that his contract would no longer be renewed due to certain violations. Five days after, a notice to vacate was posted by the barangay on Pepito’s stall.
On Jan. 21, Pepito said, Buendia and the three other barangay officials together with armed men arrived at his stall, ordered him to get out and padlocked it.
On Feb. 3, Pepito was given a final notice to vacate. His stall was demolished several days after.
The four barangay officials had also barged into his store and seized all items including those that were not for sale. Pepito said he received no inventory of the seized items.
In their counter-affidavits, Lumangtad said the barangay officials argued that Pepito’s contract was not renewed because of violations and that he was not a resident of the barangay.
Buendia said he was not present during the implementation of the closure order.
The barangay officials also said they were only carrying batons and not firearms, contrary to Pepito’s claim.
They added Pepito was given an itemized receipt of his merchandise and was told instruction to claim these at the barangay hall but Pepito refused to receive it.
Despite their explanation, Lumangtad found Buendia and the barangay officials liable for oppression.
She explained that Pepito’s eviction from his stall, which he had occupied for 30 years already, had no clear and legal basis.
Lumangtad found the checklist of alleged violations committed by Pepito a “flimsy excuse” to oust him from the market.
She went on to cite Article 536 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which provides that “no possession may be acquired through force or intimidation if the possessor objects to it.”
The law added that the intervention of the court was still needed before the barangay could oust Pepito.
“When complainant refused to vacate his stall, respondents should not have taken the law into their own hands and deprived complainant of his means of livelihood,” she said.
Lumangtad then reminded the barangay officials that they should perform their duties in accordance with the law.
“They must use their power with caution and strict observance of the rights of the people they serve,” she added.
Asked about the Ombudsman’s decision, Buendia said he has not yet received it but added he has was already anticipating it.
He said it is politically motivated because Team Rama wants to avenge the mayor’s preventive suspension by the Office of the President for 60 days, over the demolition of a median structure in his barangay. Buendia had filed that complaint.
Buendia is a member of the Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan and is running for councilor under the group in the May 9 polls.
“Ila gyud kong gigukod from civil, administrative and criminal case. Murder na lang ang kulang, life sentence na ko,” he said.
The village chief said the demolition of Pepito’s stall never happened, although his contract was indeed not renewed.
“They manufactured the incident for me to be pinned down,” he said.
Pepito yesterday went to City Hall to ask Mayor Rama to implement the ombudsman’s order.
Sought for comment about this, the mayor said he wants the matter referred first to the City Legal Office.
He said he “feels for Buendia” for being penalized for doing something he believed was right, but the decision of the ombudsman will have to be faced.
Since the election period started last Jan. 10, though, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has prohibited the suspension of elective provincial, city, municipal or barangay officers unless there is a prior written approval from the poll body.
City Legal Office Chief Atty. Jerone Castillo said they will endorse the matter to the Comelec Manila and secure approval from them so the order can be implemented by the mayor.
Lumangtad rendered the decision last Feb. 19 this year and Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente approved it last March 2.