Cebu gov says she was kept in the dark on property dealBy Ador Vincent Mayol
CEBU CITY—I was kept in the dark.
This was the line of defense taken by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who had been charged with graft for the purchase by the provincial government of a parcel of land half of which was under water.
In a motion for reconsideration and investigation, Garcia said members of a committee of the provincial government knew that portion of the 24.7 hectare lot in Naga City, Cebu, that the provincial government bought for P98.9 million was under water but didn’t tell her.
The land deal was consummated in 2008.
Garcia is seeking to reverse a decision by the Ombudsman in the Visayas to charge her at the antigraft court Sandiganbayan with graft for the land deal. Her suspension looms after she is arraigned.
The Ombudsman filed two counts of graft and one count of illegal use of public funds against Garcia at the Sandiganbayan for the purchase of the beachfront property in Naga City that turned out to be mostly under water.
Also charged each with one count of graft were then Provincial Board Member Juan Bolo; Anthony Sususco, chair of the Cebu Provincial Appraisal Committee (CPAC) and provincial assessor at the time; CPAC members Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre and Provincial Engineer Eulogio Pelayre; Provincial Budget Officer Emme Gingoyon and land owners Amparo and Romeo Balili.
The respondents, who are out on bail, are scheduled to be arraigned this month at the Sandiganbayan.
Garcia asked the Ombudsman to reconsider its ruling and reinvestigate the case, saying she was unaware that a portion of the property was under water.
When she signed the memorandum of agreement for the purchase of the lot, Garcia said she merely relied on the report of the provincial government’s appraisal committee that did not indicate that a portion of the property was submerged.
Garcia’s lawyers said the committee failed to present a report of a technical working group (TWG) that showed portion of the property was submerged.
The TWG reported directly to the appraisal committee and not to Garcia, her lawyers said.
Garcia was not expected to personally examine every detail of the lot deal considering the amount of work she has to do as governor, said her lawyers.
“Governor Garcia certainly had the right to presume that the appraisal committee was in the regular performance of its duties when it produced the appraisal committee report, which, on its face, did not reveal that a portion of the Balili properties was submerged,” the lawyers said.
“She (Garcia) could not be expected to examine in detail, much more in person, every single facet of each transaction entered into by the local government,” they said.
Her lawyers also said the governor “validly” relied on the Transfer Certificates of Title (TCT) for the Balili land that also did not say that a portion of the property was under water.
The lawyers said the 10 parcels of land that were part of the Balili properties were covered by valid land titles.
“Pursuant to the principle that a purchaser may rely on the face of a TCT to confirm its validity and lack of infirmities, Governor Garcia had no reason to believe or even suspect that any infirmities existed in said parcels of land,” said the lawyers.
They said Garcia, being the local chief executive, had the right to have faith on the land titles and reports submitted by her subordinates.