CEBU CITY—After being suspended for six months, Gov. Gwen Garcia was found by the Office of the Ombudsman guilty of grave misconduct, together with five other Cebu provincial officials, for the irregular purchase of the Balili beachfront property in Naga City, Cebu, worth P98.9 million which turned out to be mostly under water.
Garcia, who is serving a six-month suspension by the Office of the President for grave abuse of authority, will face trial on two counts of graft and one count of technical malversation or illegal use of public funds.
In a 26-page decision issued on Jan. 25, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales also declared guilty of grave misconduct Juan Bolo, a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cebu; retired Provincial Assessor Anthony Sususco, Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre and Provincial Engineer Eulogio Pelayre, all members of the provincial appraisal committee; and Emme Gingoyon, provincial budget officer.
Also charged with graft were landowners Amparo and Romeo Balili.
Morales, however, said the administrative liability of Garcia and Bolo “has been mooted by their reelection in the 2010 national and local elections” while Sususco, Salubre, Pelayre and Gingoyon were meted out the penalty of dismissal from the service, together with its accessory penalties.
The Ombudsman has denied for “lack of merit” a motion filed by Garcia and the other seven respondents.
Christina Codilla-Frasco, Garcia’s daughter and lawyer, said they had not received a copy of the Ombudsman resolution.
Garcia’s other lawyer, Tranquil Salvador, would not say if they would go to the Supreme Court to stop the arraignment and preventive suspension of Garcia, saying they had yet to read the resolution.
In denying the motion, Morales said the grounds raised by the respondents in their motion were mere repetitions of the matters that had already been dwelt on.
The antigraft office said that the accused diverted at least P50 million in government funds intended for housing and site development programs to pay for the Balili land, which turned out to be mostly under water.
Morales said the parties, particularly Garcia, acted with gross inexcusable negligence in the purchase of the Balili estate with the admission of landowner Romeo Balili that there was no survey conducted before the agreement on the sale was signed.
“Without a doubt, the purchase of the Balili properties is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government … given that the substantial portion thereof is submerged in seawater and cannot be utilized for the province’s housing program,” Morales said.
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol said that with the Ombudsman’s decision, the Sandiganbayan would schedule the arraignment of Garcia and the seven others.
“This also serves as a warning to all government officials. We will not hesitate to file charges if there is any irregularity. We will not relent in our fight against corruption,” he said.
After the arraignment, a 90-day preventive suspension would follow.
“We expect the preventive suspension to be issued at any time. It’s not affected by the forthcoming elections,”said Apostol.
He said that only a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court could stop the arraignment or the suspension.
“She can be suspended even if she will be elected congresswoman,”he added.
Garcia will exchange places with younger brother Rep. Pablo John Garcia of Cebu’s 3rd district. She will run for the district’s seat in the House of Representative while her brother will run for governor under the One Cebu Party.
3 separate complaints
The case stemmed from three separate complaints filed by the Office of the Ombudsman–Visayas’ Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (PACPO-Visayas), Manuel Manuel and Crisologo Saavedra in connection with the alleged irregular purchase by the Cebu provincial government of the Balili estate consisting of 11 parcels of land with a total area of 249,246 sqm for an aggregate amount of P99,698,400, of which P98,926,800 had already been paid.
The purchase was made possible through a memorandum of agreement signed by Garcia on behalf of the provincial government for the estate, of which 19.67 hectares were submerged in water, located in Tina-an, Naga, Cebu, at P400 per sqm.
According to the Ombudsman’s decision, the transaction was tainted with irregularities as the provincial government at the time had no available funds specifically appropriated for the purpose of “providing a good opportunity for the province of Cebu to develop and cater to the needs of interested investors.
It said that 50 percent of the total payment made by the provincial government “actually came from the [P50M] budget of the province not specifically earmarked for that purpose but for Site Development and Housing Program under Social Services.”
Of the 11 parcels of land, “about 196,696 square meters of the total area of 249,246 square meters is submerged in seawater,” hence, it cannot be used for the intended purpose of developing an international seaport and attract investors nor even for site development or housing, the decision said.