CEBU CITY?The Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas has ordered top provincial officials led by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia investigated for possible graft charges involving the controversial P98.9-million purchase of a coastal property in Naga town that was later found to be mostly submerged in water.
The order to formally investigate Garcia, Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez, six incumbent provincial board members and seven former board members and 10 members of the Provincial Appraisal Committee (PAC) and Technical Working Group (TWG) was released Friday by the Visayas Ombudsman, a year after it investigated the botched land deal.
The controversy stemmed from the province?s purchase from the Balili family of a 24.7-hectare property, consisting of 11 parcels of land totaling 249,246 square meters, in barangay Tinaan, Naga City, located some 21.7 km south of Cebu City.
It was later found that the bigger part of the property, or 196,702 sq m, was timberland or submerged in seawater and with mangroves, valued at P78.7 million of the total amount paid to the landowner.
Garcia and the other Capitol officials must be investigated for violating at least two provisions of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly ?entering into a contract which is manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government,? and ?acting with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence,? said the Ombudsman report.
The 31-page final evaluation report was prepared by graft prevention and control officer Roderick Blazo on June 22 and approved by Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Sept. 27.
?This fact, by itself, is manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government. Submerged lands are part of the state?s inalienable natural resources. With the MOA (memorandum of agreement with the Balili family), the government has been made to pay (P78.7 million) for a property already part of public dominion,? the Blazo report said.
Blazo also noted that Garcia did not bother to check the physical characteristics of the land and this was ?very surprising? considering the magnitude of the deal.
He said there was also no development plan and just decided to buy the property without regard to its public purpose.
Garcia?s spokesperson, lawyer Rory Jon Sepulveda, said the governor would answer the allegations and refute the charges during the preliminary investigation.
?In accordance with law, we will be given an opportunity to submit counter-affidavit and all controverting evidence. We are confident that once all is in, there would be no case against the governor,? Sepulveda said on Saturday.
Sepulveda said Blazo?s findings were all premature because the governor was not asked to answer during the fact finding inquiry.
The members of the provincial board headed by Sanchez will also be investigated for alleged ?gross inexcusable negligence? for approving a resolution authorizing the deal in 2008.
The Ombudsman said the provincial board members should be held liable for approving the resolution that resulted to the purchase of the property despite the lack of feasibility study and thorough verification of the area.
Former provincial board member Juan Bolo and nine others who were members of the PAC and TWG will be investigated for possible grave misconduct for ?conspiring and confederating with each other in the purchase of a piece of land which is classified as timberland.?
The PAC members include the provincial assessor, provincial treasurer, and provincial engineer. The TWG members are the assistant provincial assessor, asistant clerk, and tax mapping aides.
A member of TWG who asked not to be named on Friday expressed apprehension that they were included in the case to be used as scapegoat in the end.
The TWG member claimed they were just doing their job, inspected the area and reported to PAC their discovery that a vast part of the property was submerged in water.
The member said he did not know why the PAC did not include their report when the land deal document was submitted to the office of the governor.
The Ombudsman will also investigate lawyer Romeo Balili who served as the executor of the estate owned by the late Luis Balili, and Luis? wife Amparo.
The provincial budget officer was also dragged into the controversy for certifying that there were funds for the purchase of the Balili property despite the absence of an appropriation ordinance.