MANILA, Philippines - The Ombudsman on Thursday, July 19, filed before the Sandiganbayan two counts of graft and one count of technical malversation charges against presumptive United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial candidate Cebu Gov Gwendolyn Garcia in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of a P98.9-million land in Tiga-an, Naga, Cebu.
The Ombudsman discovered that 19.67 hectares of the 24.92-hectare property is under seawater. The disbursment was also supposedly illegal because the provincial government diverted P49,849,200 from the province’s Site Development and Housing Program to partly pay for the land acquisition.
Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Blesilda Ouano recommended that bail for each case be set at P30,000.
Six other Capitol officials, who supposedly conspired with Garcia, were also charged in the first graft case. They are Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Juan V. Bolo, provincial appraisal committee chairman and provincial assessor Anthony D. Sususco, provincial treasurer Roy G. Salubre, OIC provincial engineer Eulogio B. Pelayre, provincial budget officer Emme T. Gingoyon and private individuals Amparo and Romeo Balili.
“The disbursement was illegal considering that the Province of Cebu can no longer carry out its plan of “site development and housing program” because based on the verification survey conducted by the DENR and the Office of the Ombudsman, they discovered that 196,696 square meters of the 249,246 square meters were under water,” investigators said.
The Ombudsman did not file a plunder case. There was no evidence to show that she personally profited from the transaction, it said.
“The allegations in the complaint are insufficient to make out a case of Plunder. There is no sufficient evidence that respondents amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth,” it pointed out.
Garcia said the Ombudsman's move is smack of "political harassment."
"It really is a rather surprising turn of events. It would not seem to look as though this is totally an innocent move. Alam naman natin we are now right in the middle of what is beginning to be a political season. These kinds of moves certainly will bring up suspicion of possible political harassment," Garcia said during a meeting of UNA in Manila.
It's reminiscent of the Arroyo administration, said UNA secretary-general Toby Tiangco. "Mukhang bumabalik na naman tayo sa sistema na ang administrasyon, hindi lang machinery ang ginagamit laban sa political enemies kung hindi pati political harassment which was the trait of the previous administration na supposedly hindi na mangyari ngayon sa 'Tuwid na Daan.'" he said.
Cebu is the country's biggest voting province, with almost 2.5 million registered voters.
The Ombudsman-Visayas investigated Garcia based on separate complaints filed by whistleblowers Crisologo Saavedra and Manuel Manuel. In sent its report to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in February. Ombudsman-Visayas found the purchase "manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government." Morales approved the filing of the charges last July 13. - Rappler.com
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