Ombud says no plunder, only graft raps for GwenCebu Daily News
CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and other officials couldn’t face plunder charges despite spending P98.9 million in Capitol funds to purchase the controversial Balili beach property in Naga City, the Ombudsman-Visayas said.
Pelagio Apostol, Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, said Garcia and the other officials could be charged with plunder if they accumulated wealth of at least P50 million.
“But if the public official was just a recipient of an irregular transaction, graft charges shall be filed,” Pelagio explained to Cebu Daily News.
Republic Act 7080 or the Plunder Law classifies plunder as being committed by “any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with (others)” acquires ill-gotten wealth through a series of overt criminal acts worth at least P50 million.
Gov. Garcia is facing two counts of graft and illegal use of public funds before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the Balili lot fiasco.
The anti-graft office found probable cause to indict the governor for “entering, on behalf of the government” into a grossly disadvantageous contract by purchasing the Balili property that was discovered to be mostly underwater.
Both offenses are prohibited under Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Garcia was charged for using public funds “other than that” appropriated by law or ordinance.
The Ombudsman-Visayas said the governor used P49.8 million that was originally allocated for the Capitol’s site development and housing program to purchase the Balili beach property.
CDN visited last week the controversial beach front in barangay Tinaan, Naga City.
But guards prohibited unauthorized persons from entering the premises of the province-owned lot without seeking the Capitol’s permission.
A look at an adjacent area showed several tall mangroves surrounding the fish pond.
“Daan naman gyud ni. (This area has long been a sea),” said a fisherman who was spotted in the area.
He could only laugh at the reports that Capitol purchased the 24.7-hectares of beach front property worth P98.9 million, land that turned out to be mostly underwater or classified as coastal timberland.
In 2008, Capitol bought 24.7 hectares of land owned by the late engineer Luis Balili in barangay Tinaan in Naga City and paid P98.9 million.
In a technical report, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR-7) confirmed that 82 percent or 20.2 hectares out of the 24.7 hectare Balili property in Naga was timberland or public land.
A survey commissioned by the province later found that 9.4 hectares of land worth P38.7 million were planted with mangroves and were submerged in water.
The Capitol sought the intervention of the court to reclaim the P37.8 million as refund for the portions of the Balili property that were found to be underwater.
Gov. Garcia’s attention was earlier called by Cebu ecology advocates, who questioned the disposal of coal ash and the land classification of the Balili estate.
The governor later apologized for what she called “ a fiasco ,” saying she had been misled about the circumstances of the property purchase by former Provincial Board Member Juan Bolo.
Despite this, the governor said the province would continue with its plan to develop the Balili land into an international port and a coal ash storage area as part of its agreement with Korean power producer Kepco-Salcon.
She insisted the purchase was still aboveboard, and that fishponds and wetlands could be reclaimed and titled in the name of Cebu province.
Aside from Garcia, the Ombudsman also filed charges in court against Bolo, provincial appraisal committee chairman and provincial assessor Anthony Sususco.
Also included were provincial treasurer Roy Salubre, OIC provincial engineer Eulogio Pelayre, provincial budget officer Emme Gingoyon and private individuals Amparo and Romeo Balili. Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol