By Jeffrey Damicog
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been directed to hunt down a fugitive Ilocos Sur town mayor who was ordered arrested by a local court for the alleged illegal detention of a beach resort operator and her employees.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he gave the directive himself for the NBI to track down Cabugao Mayor Josh Edward Cabangbang.
“The NBI has tapped teams of agents to arrest Mayor Cobangbang pursuant to the warrant issued by the RTC (regional trial court),” the Secretary said.
Recently, Cabugao RTC Branch 24 Judge Raphiel Alzate issued an arrest warrant against Cabangbang.
Meanwhile, Guevarra said government prosecutors will seek before the RTC the issuance of a hold departure order (HDO) against Cabangbang who remains at large.
“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 said.
Charges were filed against Cabangbang and his 18 co-accused after the Department of Justice (DOJ) found probable cause to indict them with serious illegal detention and grave coercion.
“After a circumspect evaluation of the facts presented and the claims and defenses and evidences of both parties, we find merit in the petition,” read the DOJ resolution signed by Undersecretary Deo Marco dated January 15.
Aside from Cabangbang, those also indicted with him are municipal officials and employees, namely, Raquel Ancheta, Constacia Quinola, Gio Serna, Cresencio Formoso, Conrado Segui, Rexor Abara, Richard Pula, Renato Roman Sol, Elmer Ramos, Jessar Cruz, Ronillo Santiago, Kevin Somera, Arvin Manauis, Benny Agbayani, Cara Soriano, Humprey Catriz, Gerly Flores, Ednalyn Silario, and Alvin Solis.
The case stemmed from the decision of the local government to shut down the operations of the government-owned Cabugao Beach Resort (CBR) which was padlocked on August 23, 2017 without any court order while the complainant, resorts operator Virginia Ong, was still inside along with her four-year-old son and several employees.
Ong became an industrial partner in 2015 of Antonio Valera who leased the CBR from the municipality from 2005 up to 2025.
The complainant took over as operator and continued to pay lease after Valera filed a quit claim on December 1, 2016.
However, Cabangbang demanded Ong to vacate CBR as he intends to implement a local ordinance which offered to lease the property to a new investor.
“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’,” the DOJ resolution read.
“Hence, assuming that the lease contract was in fact terminated by Valero through the Quiclaim and assuming further that the Ordinance may be treated as a sufficient acceptance of the termination of the lease, these do not justify the forcible ejectment of appellant, her young son and her employees who enjoy prior undisturbed possession,” it added.