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Ex-mayor Arceño: I am no fugitive from justice

NAGA CITY—Former Pasacao town mayor Maria Asuncion “Ava” Arceño belied reports that she went into hiding when she received the information that Regional Trial Court Branch 33 Judge Marvel Clavecilla issued an arrest warrant against her for indirect contempt.
Ex-mayor Ava Arceño: I am no fugitive from justice
In an interview over BBS-DWLV, Arceño clarified that it was never her intention to disrespect or insult the Honorable RTC Judge. She claimed that she was not notified of the scheduled promulgation of the charge of indirect contempt against her last June 3.

Arceño mentioned that on June 2, she filed a motion for postponement in connection with the June 3 promulgation.

However, she said that she did not receive any notice of hearing that requires her to attend the promulgation. She further stated that she even called her lawyer for advice. Her lawyer told her that if there is no notice of hearing, there is a probability that the decision is acquittal. Therefore there is no need for her to be present.

“It was really my intention to attend the promulgation. But, but my blood sugar is uncontrolled, and I had been suffering from a severe headache for several days already, so I decided to go to Manila.

Also, my lawyer was not available, that’s why he filed a motion to reset the promulgation to the last week of June,” she explained.

“On my way to Manila last June 3, somebody called to inform me that the indirect contempt promulgation proceeded,” she narrated.

A explained that the indirect contempt charge was issued because the court said that she did not did not follow the RTC order which enjoined her office to implement the 2013 annual budget.

The complainants in the indirect contempt charge are Hon. Nino Tayco, Robert Brazos, Jeff Lindsey Lee Oliver, Angelo Remo and William Bihag.

The legal issue started when the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Camarines Sur questioned the legality and effectivity of the 2013 budget.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan filed a case for mandamus with prayer for Temporary Restraining Order and/or preliminary injunction against Mayor Arceño and the Sangguniang Bayan of Pasacao on April 29, 2013.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan alleged that said budget is not approved because their interpretation is that the required number of votes for the approval of the annual budget should be a majority of all the members of the Sangguniang Bayan.

On the other hand, Arceño’s interpretation is that for the budget to be approved, the number of votes needed is only a majority of all members present, provided there is a quorum.

Antecedent to this, the 2011 and 2012 budgets were both questioned by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in cases filed at the Regional Trial Court in Naga City for not having been legally passed.

Two favorable decisions were handed down by RTC Naga. Both decisions were appealed, and the Court of Appeals sustained and upheld Arceño’s interpretation. Said decision clarified that the required vote is only a majority of the Sangguniang Bayan, constituting a quorum.

“In 2013, the annual budget was again questioned,” Arceño narrated. “But, unlike the previous cases which were brought before RTC Naga, where cases involving the residents of Pasacao are filed, the new complaint was filed in RTC Pili.”

Arceño questioned the jurisdiction of RTC Pili. The court proceeded to hear the case.

On May 9, 2013, however, RTC Pili issued a Temporary Restraining Order, which in effect prohibits the LGU from spending the annual budget, because of the allegation that it is not approved.

On May 30, 2013, the same court granted the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction.

Arceño explained that assuming that there is an injunction to spend the 2013 budget, the LGU will operate under a re-enacted budget. They will therefore use the 2012 annual budget.

Under a re-enacted budget, the law allows the LGU to spend money for essential operational expenses and contractual obligations.

In compliance with the TRO, the LGU spent money only for necessary expenses and contractual obligations.

“What the petitioner is questioning is the payment of the salaries of the contractual workers, which were hired as early as February 2013. This is a contractual obligation, which was made way ahead of the court’s issuance of the TRO,” she said.

“I did not abuse my authority,” she stressed. “The P383,750 was paid to contractual employees. I did not pocket a single centavo, nor did I violate the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”

In the order promulgated on June 3, 2014, the dispositive portion reads:

“WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, finding respondent Ava Arceño GUILTY, beyond reasonable doubt pursuant to her judicial admissions, of indirect contempt said co-respondent is hereby ordered:

A. To suffer imprisonment for thirty (30) days and to pay a fine of Thirty Thousand pesos (P30,000.00); and

B. To restitute to the treasury of LGU-Pasacao, Cam. Sur the amount of Three Hundred Eighty Three Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Pesos (P383,750.00) which is the equivalent of the illegally-disbursed fund from the coffers of LGU Pasacao, Cam. Sur, in contravention of the Order of May 30, 2013 issued by this Court.”

The court further said that during the promulgation, Arceño was absent despite due notice, hence, the promulgation in absentia. The warrant of arrest was issued with a recommended bail of P80,000.00. In case Arceño appeals the decision, the appeal bond is fixed at P50,000.00.

Yesterday, Arceño personally reported to Branch 33 of the Regional Trial Court to file a motion for leave of court to avail of the remedy of appeal with attached Notice of Appeal with bond fee. The motion alleged that she voluntarily surrendered to the authorities in Quezon City and filed the required bail for her temporary liberty before the RTC Executive Judge in Quezon City.—BICOLSTANDARD.COM

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