MANILA, Philippines – The Ombudsman has declared suspended Cebu Gov Gwendolyn Garcia and 5 other provincial officials guilty of grave misconduct over the purchase of the Balili Estate in Cebu in 2008.
In a statement, the Office of the Ombudsman said that aside from Garcia the others who were found guilty were: Juan Bolo, Member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cebu; Anthony Sususco, Roy Salubre, and Eulogio Pelayre, all members of the Provincial Appraisal Committee; and Emme Gingoyon, Provincial Budget Officer.
The Ombudsman signed the 26-page decision on January 25. It said the administrative liability of Garcia and Bolo “has been mooted by their reelection in the 2010 National and Local Elections,” while Sususco, Salubre, Pelayre and Gingoyon were meted the penalty of dismissal from the service, together with its accessory penalties.
Garcia, on the other hand, is serving a 3-month suspension over a different case that was investigated by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Office of the President.
Her lawyer, Tranquil Salvador, said the recent Ombudsman decision is “moot and academic.” He explained: “They will just use those findings in their case against Sandiganbayan, the graft case.”
The Ombudsman’s case is based on 3 separate complaints filed by the Office of the Ombudsman – Visayas’ Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (PACPO-Visayas), Manuel Manuel and Crisologo Saavedra in connection with the irregular purchase by the Cebu Provincial Government of the Balili estate consisting of 11 parcels of land with a total area of 249,246 sq.m. for an aggregate amount of P99,698,400, of which P98,926,800 has already been paid.
Cebu bought the property through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by Garcia. The property, located in Tina-an, Naga, Cebu, was sold at P400 per sq.m., according to the statement.
Submerged in seawater
The Ombudsman said the provincial government at the time had no available funds appropriated for “providing a good opportunity for the Province of Cebu to develop and cater to the needs of interested investors.”
It noted that “about 196,696 square meters of the total area of 249,246 square meters is submerged in seawater.” The 50% of the total payment made by Cebu “actually came from the [P50M] budget of the province not specifically earmarked for that purpose but for Site Development and Housing Program under Social Services.”
The Ombudsman concluded that “the use of funds for a purpose other than the specific purpose for which the fund was appropriated is per se illegal.”
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales earlier ordered the filing of criminal charges against Garcia for violating Section 3(g) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), and for technical malversation punishable under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code. This is pending at the Sandiganbayan.
A member of the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Garcia has accused the Aquino administration of harassing her politically and refuses to step down. She is running for Congress in May. – with reports from Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler.com
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