MANILA, Philippines—Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has indicted for graft and suspended for one year without pay three regional officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in connection with the questionable disapproval of the survey plans of some lot owners to give way to the foreshore lease application of another company in 2007.
In a 15-page Review Resolution, Morales upheld the findings of the investigating team of alleged violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by DENR Regional Director Regidor De Leon, Regional Technical Director for Lands Leonardo Aggabao, Jr. and Engineer III Fernando Clerigo.
The case stemmed from the complaint filed by Jaime Lazaro, Salvador Osita and Monico Waje, owners of several lots covered by survey plans located in Barangay Bolitoc, Sta. Cruz, Zambales.
In their complaint, they claimed that De Leon, Aggabao Jr. and Clerigo had conspired in canceling their approved survey plans to give way to the application of the DMCI Holdings, Inc. (DMCI).
They also alleged that their application was canceled without the benefit of hearing or inquiry in gross violation of the elementary rule of due process. They added that the cancellation was irregular as it was made before the scheduled ground survey.
The complainants further stressed that the lots covered by the plans have been classified as alienable and disposable as they are agricultural in nature as evidenced by the certification issued by Juanito David, Officer-in-Charge, Community Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO), Masinloc; Aggabao, Jr. and Juan Fernandez, Jr., Chief, Surveys Division.
They further claimed that the lots covered by the plans have not been eaten by the South China Sea contrary to the findings of the DENR’s Regional Office.
In the Resolution, Morales agreed “that conspiracy among respondents De Leon, Aggabao, Jr. and Clerigo indicating unity of the purpose in accomplishing a criminal design to favor DMCI’s foreshore lease application is gathered from their [acts.]”
She said that the respondents’ manifest partiality and bad faith became very obvious when they arbitrarily cancelled private complainants’ approved survey plans before the scheduled ground verification survey using as bases the January 11, 2008 Memorandum/ Investigation Report of respondents Special Investigator Rowena Magat and Land Management Inspector Joel Dedicatoria and Forest Ranger Dionito Pascual and January 8, 2008 Order of De Leon.
“This is a clear case of putting the cart ahead of the horse,” the resolution said.
“While there is possibility that there might be legal grounds to cancel the same, still, it offers no excuse for the respondents to make legal short cuts and ignore the cardinal requirements of due process),” it added.
In upholding the report of her team, Morales cited Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which stated that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law nor shall any person be denied of equal protection of the laws.”
Aside from their indictment, Morales also found De Leon, Aggabao, Jr. and Clerigo guilty of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service as she penalized them with one year suspension without pay.
“The image of the public office is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work therein,” Morales stressed.
“It cannot be gainsaid that respondents’ conduct clearly violated the norm of public accountability and diminished the faith of the people in the [DENR],” she added.
The criminal and administrative charges filed against Fernandez, Jr., Land Management Office OIC Marife Castillo, David, Magat, Dedicatoria and Pascual, were dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.