Ilocos Sur mayor ordered arrested for serious illegal detention, grave coercion

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2019 04:20 PM

MANILA- A court has ordered the arrest of an Ilocos Sur town mayor over the detention of a resort operator, her 4-year-old son and several employees during the closure of a resort under the mayor’s instructions.

Cabugao, Ilocos Sur Regional Trial Court Branch 24 issued warrants of arrest dated February 18, 2019 against Cabugao town mayor Josh Edward Cobangbang and 19 others for serious illegal detention and grave coercion.

Acting Presiding Judge Rafael Alzate signed the warrants in Bangued, Abra.

According to the arrest warrants, the serious illegal detention case is non-bailable while the court has set the amount of bail for grave coercion at P36,000 each.

Also ordered arrested with Cobangbang are:

- Raquel Ancheta
- Constancia Quinola
- Gio Serna aka Austin Giorgio Serna
- Engr. Cresencio Marcos Formoso
- Engr. Conrado Segui
- Rexor Moises Abara
- Richard Pula
- Renato Roman
- Elmer Ramos
- Jessar Rei Cruz
- Ronillo Santiago
- Kevin Somera
- Arvin Jay Manauis
- Benny Agbayani, Jr.
- Katrina Soriano aka Cara
- Humphrey Jesus Catriz
- Jerlie Oda Flores aka Gerly
- Ednalyn Silario
- Alvin Solis

WHAT HAPPENED

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Virginia Nicole Savellano-Ong, a resort operator.

Savellano-Ong operated the Cabugao Beach Resort, a government-owned property leased to Savellano-Ong’s partner, Antonio Valera. Valera had been leasing the property since 2005.

In 2016, Valera executed a quitclaim thinking that Savellano-Ong will continue operating the resort.

But the municipality passed an ordinance authorizing the lease of the resort to another lessee.

The municipal treasurer then refused to receive payment of rentals from Savellano-Ong.

Instead, Mayor Cobangbang asked her to leave the premises in June 2017, according to the findings of the DOJ.

When Savellano-Ong refused, municipal employees in August 2017, without any court document, padlocked the resort leaving Savellano-Ong, her 4-year-old son and 7 employees trapped inside overnight.

DOJ RULING

On January 15, the DOJ found probable cause to indict Cobangbang and his co-accused.

In finding there was probable cause for the charge of serious illegal detention, the DOJ said Cobangbang acted beyond the scope of his authority because the municipal ordinance did not authorize him to close the resort, eject the occupants nor detain them.

“While it is undisputed that the Municipality owns CBR, it is equally true that ‘the [owner] of a property [has] no authority to use force and violence to eject alleged usurpers who were in prior physical possession of it. They must file the appropriate action in court and should take the law into their own hands,’” it ruled.

The DOJ also said the resort operator was justified in refusing to leave the property, especially since Valera had cancelled his quitclaim.

Similarly, the DOJ found probable cause to charge the mayor and his co-accused with grave coercion.

It held that when respondents padlocked the doors and chained the gates of the resort without a court order, “the prevention and compulsion was indeed effected with such display of force as would produce intimidation and control of the will of the offended party.”

POSSIBLE PENALTY

The arrest warrants were addressed to the provincial director of Ilocos Sur PNP, the chief of police of Cabugao, the provincial officer of the Criminal Investigation Group-Ilocos Sur and the National Bureau of Investigation in Vigan.

The court gave them 10 days from receipt to enforce the arrests.

If found guilty, Cobangbang and the other respondents face a maximum penalty of reclusion perpetua or 40 years imprisonment for serious illegal detention and up to 6 months jail time for grave coercion.