The Department of Justice has approved the indictment of a town mayor in Ilocos Sur over the padlocking of a local beach resort with its operator and four-year-old son trapped inside.
In a 16-page resolution, the DOJ found probable cause to file serious illegal detention and grave coercion charges against Cabugao, Ilocos Sur Mayor Josh Edward Cobangbang and 18 others who have been accused by Virginia Ong of committing criminal liability arising from the closure of the local government-owned Cabugao Beach Resort (CBR) in 2017.
The DOJ granted the petition for review filed by Ong and reversed the April 23, 2018 resolution of the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office that dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause.
It reinstated the original resolution rendered in January last year and the findings of probable cause by investigating Senior Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Adriano Cabida, which the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office reversed upon appeal by Cobangbang.
The DOJ ruled that elements of serious illegal detention were present in this case – a private individual is detained without lawful basis and that the detention was committed by public authority and the detainees were a woman and a minor. The said offense is non-bailable.
In finding probable cause for indictment, the DOJ ruled that the mayor and his men are criminally liable under Articles 267 and 286 of the Revised Penal Code over the closure of CBR on Aug.24, 2017 by virtue of a municipal ordinance that only authorized the local executive to negotiate with Ong for resolution of the dispute on the ownership of the resort.
It noted that Ong, her son and some of her employees were forced to stay in the padlocked resort until the following day until their lawyer and the police arrived.
“While it is undisputed that the municipality owns the CBR, it is equally true that ‘the power of a property (has) no authority to use force and violence to eject alleged usurpers who were in prior possession of it. They must file the appropriate action is court and should not take the law into their own hands,” stated the resolution signed by Justice Undersecretary Deo Marco.
he DOJ ruled that the respondents were “indeed participating and cooperating in the concerted effort to close CBR and to wrestle possession thereof from appellant and her companions.”
“Fundamental is the rule that in no case may possession be acquired through force or intimidation, as long as there is a possessor who objects thereto, and that he who believes that he has an action or right to deprive another of the holding of a thing must invoke the aid of a competent court should the holder refuse to deliver the thing,” it said.
The DOJ emphasized that the ordinance, which only authorized the mayor to negotiate and enter into a contract of lease with the qualified lessee, cannot be basis to padlock the resort and detain Ong inside.
It said that Ong was still in possession of the resort at the time of the incident “because there was no competent court order for her ejectment.”
Prior to the incident, the mayor demanded Ong and her employees to leave the CBR’s premises. But the latter refused the leave the resort, saying her lease contract was for a period of 20 years or until 2025.
Record showed that Ong took over the CBR after the previous operator, with whom Ong was an industrial partner, filed a quit claim in 2016. Ong continued paying the monthly rental, which the mayor objected, prompting the local government to pass a municipal ordinance to allow a new investor.”‹