G.R. No. 147870
July 31, 2002
Solomon Maagad and Renato Fernandez, members of the Sangguniang Bayan of San Vicente, Palawan filed an administrative complaint against Alejandro A. Villapando, the mayor of San Vicente, Palawan for abuse of authority and culpable violation of the Constitution for entering into a consultancy agreement with Orlando M. Tiape, a defeated mayoralty candidate in the May 1998 elections where Villapando was elected. They allege that the consultancy agreement amounted to an appointment to a government position within the prohibited one-year period under Article IX-B, Section 6, of the 1987 Constitution. Villapando, on the other hand, argues that he did not hire Tiape, but appointed him and invoked Opinion No. 106, s. 1992, of the Department of Justice which states that the appointment of a defeated candidate as a consultant does not constitute an appointment to a government office or position as prohibited by the Constitution. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan found Villapando guilty of the administrative charge and dismissed him from service which was affirmed by the Office of the President. Meanwhile, Ramir Pablico, the vice-mayor of San Vicente, Palawan, took his oath of office as Municipal Mayor. Villapando filed for a temporary restraining order with the RTC of Palawan which was first granted, then denied.
Villapando now seeks to annul the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s Decision as affirmed by the Office of the President, and the RTC’s denial of the TRO. He argues that under Sec. 60 of R.A. 7160, an elective local official may be removed by order of the proper court based on the grounds enumerated under said section. Without such order of the court, he cannot be dismissed.
Whether or not local legislative bodies and/or the Office of the President, on appeal, may validly impose the penalty of dismissal from service on erring elective local officials?
The Supreme Court held that it is clear under Sec. 60 of R.A. 7160 that the penalty of dismissal from service upon an erring elective local official may be decreed only by a court of law.
In Salalima, et al. v. Guingona, et al., it was held that “[t]he Office of the President is without any power to remove elected officials, since such power is exclusively vested in the proper courts as expressly provided for in the last paragraph of Section 60.” Article 124 (b), Rule XIX of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code, however, adds that – “(b) An elective local official may be removed from office on the grounds enumerated in paragraph (a) of this Article [The grounds enumerated in Section 60, Local Government Code of 1991] by order of the proper court or the disciplining authority whichever first acquires jurisdiction to the exclusion of the other.” The disciplining authority referred to pertains to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan/Panlungsod/Bayan and the Office of the President.
As held in Salalima, this grant to the “disciplining authority” of the power to remove elective local officials is clearly beyond the authority of the Oversight Committee that prepared the Rules and Regulations. No rule or regulation may alter, amend, or contravene a provision of law, such as the Local Government Code. Implementing rules should conform, not clash, with the law that they implement, for a regulation which operates to create a rule out of harmony with the statute is a nullity. It is beyond cavil, therefore, that the power to remove erring elective local officials from service is lodged exclusively with the courts. Hence, Article 124 (b), Rule XIX, of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code, insofar as it vests power on the “disciplining authority” to remove from office erring elective local officials, is void for being repugnant to the last paragraph of Section 60 of the Local Government Code of 1991.
The law on suspension or removal of elective public officials must be strictly construed and applied, and the authority in whom such power of suspension or removal is vested must exercise it with utmost good faith, for what is involved is not just an ordinary public official but one chosen by the people through the exercise of their constitutional right of suffrage. Their will must not be put to naught by the caprice or partisanship of the disciplining authority. Where the disciplining authority is given only the power to suspend and not the power to remove, it should not be permitted to manipulate the law by usurping the power to remove.