MANILA - The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has given the go-signal for an Ilocos Sur town vice mayor to temporarily take over the functions of an absentee mayor wanted for criminal charges.
In a letter dated Feb. 22, DILG Region I Director James Fadrilan allowed Cabugao Vice Mayor Deogracias Jose Victorino Savellano to perform the duties of Mayor Josh Edward Cobangbang.
The letter said Cobangbang had been continuously absent since warrants of arrest were issued against him and 19 others on Feb. 18.
Cobangbang is facing charges of serious illegal detention and grave coercion over the detention Savellano's sister, a resort operator, her 4-year-old son and several employees during the closure of a resort in 2017.
The serious illegal detention charge is non-bailable while the court set the bail bond for the grave coercion case at P36,000.
The Department of Justice found probable cause to indict Cobangbang and his co-accused on Jan. 15.
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.
In its letter to Vice Mayor Savellano, DILG Region I cited a 2016 DILG opinion involving another absentee mayor.
The opinion said that if the evasion of a warrant of arrest and prosecution of charges coupled with other circumstances such as the mayor's physical absence would amount to a temporary incapacity to perform his duties and functions, section 46(a) of the Local Government Code allows the elected vice mayor to assume, in a temporary capacity, the mayor's post.
"Thus, following the aforecited opinion, as the elected Vice Mayor, you can assume the Office of the Mayor of Cabugao, Ilocos Sur in a temporary capacity and perform the duties thereof," the opinion said.
The National Bureau of Investigation has, meanwhile, tapped teams of agents to arrest Cobangbang, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
He added that a hold departure order may soon be issued by the court.
"The issuance of an HDO by the RTC is a matter of course upon motion if the trial prosecutors, especially since the warrant of arrest could not be served upon the accused," he explained.