Property under water being covered

Cebu realty deal subject of graft rap

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CEBU CITY—The provincial government has started to fill with limestone parts of a 24.7-hectare piece of property that are under water and the purchase of which led to graft charges against Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, now a candidate for a House seat.

The discovery of what provincial officials called restoration work on the Balili property (named after the family that owned it) led to a letter by Pelagio Apostol, deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

While refusing to categorically say he was asking for an investigation, Apostol said he wrote the letter to inform Morales about the restoration work.

“I’m asking the Ombudsman [to take] any action on the matter,” said Apostol in his letter. “On whether or not the reclamation will affect the presentation of evidence for the prosecution,” his letter read.

Attached to Apostol’s letter are reports from three Cebu newspapers—Cebu Daily News, Sunstar Cebu and The Freeman—about the project to cover the submerged portion of the property with limestone.

The Ombudsman, according to Apostol, should determine if there is an attempt to conceal evidence. “Is there an intent to conceal [the evidence]?” he said.

Garcia and seven others are facing graft charges at the Sandiganbayan for the allegedly irregular purchase of the beach front property in Naga City, which the provincial government bought for P98.9 million.

The property turned out to be mostly under water and classified as coastal timberland.

The seven others facing charges are provincial treasurer Roy Salubre, provincial budget officer Emme Gingoyon, retired provincial assessor Anthony Sususco, provincial engineer Eulogio Pelayre, former provincial board member Juan Bolo, landowner Amparo Balili and her lawyer Romeo Balili.

The respondents have not been arraigned by the Sandiganbayan after they appealed to the Ombudsman to withdraw the case from the antigraft court. The eight, however, have posted bail.

The Cebu provincial government is spending P27 million to cover the submerged portions of the Balili property with limestone. Garcia said she found nothing irregular about it.

She said covering the property with limestone was part of plans to turn part of it into a landfill for coal ash.

“We have never hidden our intentions about the Balili property. So what is all this alarm about what we are doing there?” Garcia said.

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