By Nanette Guadalquiver

SUSPENSION. Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson (left) with Provincial Administrator Rayfrando Diaz II in this file photo. The  Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension for six months without pay of Diaz and Executive Assistant II Chery Sheil Valenzuela for a conflict of interest when they engaged in private law practice. (File photo courtesy of PIO Negros Occidental)

BACOLOD CITY – The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension for six months without pay of Negros Occidental Provincial Administrator Rayfrando Diaz II and Executive Assistant II Chery Sheil Valenzuela for conflict of interest when they engaged in private law practice.

Diaz and Valenzuela were found guilty of violating Section 7, paragraph b (2) of the Republic Act (RA) 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

On Wednesday, Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said he believes that Diaz has not committed any violation. 

“I also personally believe he has done nothing wrong. I’m not a lawyer. I have to ask him what are the legal options still left,” Lacson told Capitol reporters in a telephone interview. 

He said that Diaz mentioned to him that he would file a motion for consideration. 

“The way I understand it, nothing is final yet,” the governor said.

In an earlier statement, Diaz said he received on Monday the 20-page decision dated Nov. 10, 2023, signed by Leilani Tagulao-Marquez, graft investigation and prosecution officer III, and approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on April 1, 2024. 

The complaint, filed by former Attorney IV Roxenne Sumanting of the Provincial Legal Office on June 20, 2022,  stemmed from the alleged failure of the respondents to provide legal assistance or representation to the Municipality of Binalbagan on the expropriation cases filed before the Regional Trial Court in Himamaylan City.

It also included the conflict of interest for appearing as counsels for JLL Agriculture and Development, one of the defendants in the expropriation case, while being an incumbent provincial administrator and executive assistant II.

Both admitted engaging in private practice when they represented JLL, claiming that they were granted authority by Lacson, according to the Ombudsman ruling.

It also said, “but appearing as counsel for JLL undeniably came in conflict with Diaz and Valenzuela’s obligations as officials of the provincial government of Negros Occidental.”

“Even if the trial court did not officially consider Valenzuela’s appearance during the pre-trial conference on Jan. 27, 2020, the fact remains that she was still the counsel of JLL during the incumbency of her employment with the government, which is prohibited,” it added.

“Thus, substantial evidence exists that Diaz and Valenzuela committed violation of Section 7 (b)(2) of RA 6713,” the decision said.

Section 7, which refers to prohibited acts and transactions, mentions in paragraph b about outside employment and other related activities of public officials and employees during their incumbency.

It provides that they “shall not engage in the private practice of their profession unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions.” (PNA)