IS GWEN FIT TO SERVE?
Saavedra, Visayas Ombud question if she can still run for office
Businessman Crisologo Saavedra, one of the complainants in the Balili lot case, said he would file a petition to disqualify Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia as a candidate.
“Gwen does not deserve to be elected because she has a lot of cases,” said Saavedra.
The move came after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales declared Garcia and five other provincial officials guilty of grave misconduct in connection with the 2008 land purchase which misused public funds to acquire 24.9 hectares of land that was mostly underwater.
Questions arose whether Garcia, who is running for the 3rd congressional district seat in May, is still qualified to take on another government post.
By virtue of the Aguinaldo Doctrine, Garcia escaped the principal penalty of dismissal from service due to her reelection in 2010.
The Ombudsman’s Jan. 25 decision said the administrative liability of Garcia and former Provincial Board “has been mooted by their reelection.”
Four other Capitol officials, including the provincial assessor who has since retired, were dismissed from service.
Yesterday, the Ombudsman in the Visayas said clarification was needed on whether the accessory penalty of “prohibition from holding public office” applies to Garcia.
“That’s the issue anybody can question. That has also been my question even before I assumed my position here,” said Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol.
Outgoing Cebu provincial election supervisor Marco Lionel Castillano said it’s up to the Comelec en banc to decide if a candidate is eligible to run or not.
He said the Aguinaldo Doctrine extinguishes all administrative liability of a reelected public official for acts done during a prior term.
“If the principal penalty is gone. Probably its accessories is also erased,” he said.
He said Garcia remains a candidate for a congressional seat in Cebu’s 3rd district unless the Comelec en banc would disqualify her.
“Anyone can file a disqualification case. We will still receive it (even if the period to file a petition for disqualification ended last Oct. 10),” said Castillano who will move to his new assignment in Bohol today.
Saavedra was one of three complainants in the Balili lot case, and has filed several cases against the Garcia administration, including a pending complaint about the Cebu International Convention Center.
“This is a victory for all taxpayers who go against corrupt officials,” said Saavedra.
“This is not the end. There are still other cases filed before the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan awaiting resolution.”
Lawyer Democrito Barcenas, spokesman of the Liberal Party (LP) in Cebu, said he believed Garcia should be disqualified.
“The issue on the anomalous purchase of the Balili property wasn’t resolved yet in 2010 (when Garcia was re-elected). How could the electorate pardon you about the outcome of something they did not know about?” Barcenas told Cebu Daily News.
Barcenas said that now that Garcia was found guildty of grave misconduct in the Balili case, the people should no longer vote for her.
“Even if the Aguinaldo Doctrine pardons her, I think people must punish her by not electing her,” Barcenas said.
He said it remains a “gray area” whether the accessory penalty of disqualification from service applies to Garcia.
“The disqualification aspect is debatable. I believe she is disqualified (from seeking a government post). I think that should be clearly resolved,” he said.
Garcia’s lead counsel Tranquil Salvador III disagreed.
“The administrative charges against her (Garcia) was mooted when she won in the 2010 elections. No penalty, and that would include accessory penalty, can be imposed against her,” Salvador said in a text message to CDN.
Apostol said the anti-graft office opposed the Aguinaldo Doctrine which spares a re-elected government official from administrative liabilities done during his or her prior term.
But since this is a ruling of the Supreme Court, he said they have no choice but to comply with it.
“The Aguinaldo Doctrine has limited the decisions of the anti-graft office. Although we are not for it, we have to obey since that comes from a decision of the Supreme Court so it is part of the legal system,” Apostol said.
“Under the Aguinaldo doctrine, re-elected officials are condoned of their previous mistakes by the electorate. If the anti-graft office will penalize a re-elected government official, it’s just like we take for granted the decision of the electorate,” he added.
Apostol couldn’t explain why former PB Member Juan Bolo was also covered by the Aguinaldo Doctrine when Bolo lost his reelection bid in 2010.
“He (Bolo) wanted to be reelected. He was punished by the people,” Apostol said.
In its decision, the Ombudsman central office may have misstated Bolo’s status. It said the administrative liability of Garcia and Bolo “has been mooted by reelection in the 2010 National and Local Elections.”
Apostol said the penalties for the four other officials shall be imposed 10 days after receipt of the decision.
The Bureau of Local Government Finance is directed to implement the dismissal from service of Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre and Provincial Budget Officer Emme Gingoyon.
On the other hand, the Department of the Interior and Local Government was mandated to implement the penalties against retired Provincial Assessor Anthony Sususco and Provincial Engineer Eulogio Pelayre.
Garcia, Bolo and the four Capitol officials were found guilty of grave misconduct in the administrative case.
They face separate criminal charges in the Sandiganbayan.
Except for Garcia and Bolo, the four others were ordered dismissed from government service. They also stand to forfeit their retirement benefits, are disqualified from being rehired in the government, and are prohibited from holding public office.
Some quarters also ask why members of the Provincial Board, which authorized Garcia to buy the Balili Estate, were cleared of the charges.
Apostol explained that it is not the role of legislators to verify whether a transaction was proper and regular.
“The executive department has the responsibility to look into the contracts and the property bought. That is beyond the functions of the Provincial Board which simply authorized (Garcia to purchase the Balili property),” he said.
The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) spelling out the terms for the purchase of the Balili land was not ratified by the PB, which also explains why legislators got off the hook.
Although he pities the four men penalized by the Ombudsman, Apostol said the anti-graft office is just doing its job.
“This is a super penalty that will affect their families but we cannot compromise the law. This serves as an example to all government officials and employees,” he said.
Apostol said he is set to release in the coming days the findings on Bailili lot reclamation, where submerged parts were backfilled with limestone on orders of Governor Garcia.
Garcia earlier sought the dismissal of the complaints against her.
Her lawyers said the Ombudsman had no jurisdiction over the Balili Estate because it has no authority to declare that the lands are timberland.
She said the province was not obliged to look beyond the descriptions of the lot titles which “clearly indicate that the subject parcels of land are agricultural, hence, alienable and disposable.”
Garcia claimed that “it is of no moment that a portion of the Balili Estate is submerged in sea water because even the Supreme Court has affirmed valid Torrens Certificates of Title covering lands submerged in seawater.”
But the Ombudsman found out that the Capitol, at the time the Balili Estate was purchased, had no available funds appropriated for that purpose.
“Significantly, of the total payment of P98.9 million made by the Province of Cebu, the first installment thereof or 50 percent of the total consideration actually came from the P50 million budget of the province not specifically earmarked for that purpose but for Site Development and Housing Program under Social Services,” the anti-graft office said.
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