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Suspension of two Philippine
mayors ‘politically motivated’

By Abelardo Aportadera*

24 October 2006: First there was Pasay City Mayor Peewee Trinidad. An order for preventive suspension for three months was meted out by the Philippine Office of the Ombudsman based on an administrative complaint that he entered into a garbage contract for the city in gross disregard of the auditing procedure. Then there was Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay. A preventive suspension order for two months was issued by the Office of the President and implemented by the Department of Interior and Local Government.

5 December 2006: Jejomar Binay came 4th in World Mayor 2006

Suspended preventively with the Pasay City Mayor were the Vice Mayor Antonio Calixto for presiding over the session of the City Council during the deliberation and approval of the contract, and city councillors aligned with the mayor, but not the city councillors who also participated in the deliberation and approval of the contract but are opposed to him.

Pasay Vice Mayor Antonio Calixto was able to secure a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals. Before this could be executed and the Vice-Mayor reinstated, the Department of Local Government issued a preventive suspension order for another three months against him based on an administrative complaint of opposition city councillors that their recommendees for hiring as casuals of the city government were not approved by the Vice-Mayor. For this, he was charged of gravely abusing his authority to hire casual employees for the city government. His second preventive suspension has also prevented him from re-assuming the position he was elected by the people of the City of Pasay, and from performing his official duties attached to his office.

A preventive suspension order for two months was meted by the Office of the President and implemented by the Department of Interior and Local Government of the Philippines against Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay. The administrative complaint against him was for hiring ‘ghost employees’. Suspended preventively with him were the City Vice-Mayor and allied City Councilors.

The orders for preventive suspension directed against the two opposition City Mayors, their Vice-Mayors and allied City Councilors were ill-timed. They were issued a few months before the election period for the 2007 local elections would commence. In any perspective, the public perceives political persecution.

The preventive suspensions issued were administrative in nature. The purpose was to prevent the respondent public official from obstructing the administrative investigation against him.

In both instances, the preventive suspension orders were issued based merely on the complaints of political critics of the respondents, before any opportunity to the very least, to comment on the charges and to be heard and before the issues were joined.

The Department of Interior and Local Government declared that the evidence of guilt was strong to warrant the preventive suspension of the two City Mayors, the two Vice-Mayors and their respective allied City Councilors. The orders for preventive suspension do not contain specifics facts but general conclusions of facts.

An administrative preventive suspension, while not in the nature of penalty, has the consequential effects of a penalty. The suspended public official is deprived of his day in court; instead of being resumed innocent until proven guilty, he is presumed to be guilty; the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties is disregarded; his reputation is tainted and besmirched; his family suffers moral damage; and during his preventive suspension he is deprived of his salaries and entitlement during his period of preventive suspension; finally, even when proven innocent of the charges and his case is dismissed, he is not entitled to back wages for the period of preventive suspension.

As it is becoming apparent, administrative preventive suspension is being used as a tool for political persecution and oppression. The power to suspend preventively is being abused. The exercise of this power lacks the corresponding safeguards to protect the rights of the public official subjected to preventive suspension.

Preventive suspensions in administrative cases may be necessary, but they should be exercised judiciously and with regard to due process to the end that justice is served and the public is not prejudiced.

In the present instances, the wholesale preventive suspension of both the executive and legislative elective local officials have resulted in the disruption of local governance and have definitely prejudiced the constituents of these elective local officials.

*Abelardo "Billy" Aportadera Jr, former commissioner on Human Rights and former assistant Ombudsman, is a practicing lawyer and a member of Philconsa.

Jejomar Binay, Mayor of Makati City and nominee for the 2006 World Mayor Award

Jejomar Binay

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay has shot to prominence as one of the most divisive yet popular figures in Philippine politics, possibly the embodiment of a city leader who can inspire the masses and irk the national political establishment. As well as a hard-earned reputation for sound city management, he can point to a leading role in restoring democracy to the Philippines after two decades of dictatorship.

The hardworking mayor has seen off numerous crises, attacks and even term limits during his almost 20 year stint since taking charge of Manila's financial district. As with all awkward yet popular city leaders, he is frequently spoken of as a possible candidate for the presidency.

Makati, as well as serving as the country's financial hub, is also home to an array of top class hotels, shopping malls, skyscrapers and country clubs, rendering it something of a byword for opulence among those familiar with Filipino society. In 2004 Makati was ranked by the Asian Institute of Management as the Most Dynamic City and a year later as one of the Top 5 Most Competitive.

Binay's jurisdiction may cover the Manhattan-style skyline of the Filipino banking district but his origins are substantially more humble, born into quasi-poverty and orphaned early on, his first job was tending his uncle's pigs. Continuing to support himself through school, he managed to obtain a place at the University of the Philippines to study political science and then law, before being called to the bar a few years later.

Binay graduated and spent the next few years practising community law among the city's poor, this being the era in which the post-independence Philippines was subject to considerable internal tension (student unrest and Communist insurgency) and external intervention (CIA meddling), with the US-backed Ferdinand Marcos beginning his tenure as president and de facto dictator for the next two decades. It was during this period that Binay was imprisoned following the introduction of marshal law and state action against pro-democracy campaigners. Binay the lawyer remained committed to his human rights work and campaigning for the reintroduction of popular democracy against the kleptocratic and increasingly draconian Marcos regime (the so-called 'New Society' of constitutional authoritarianism). More