Rama seeks COA aid in Rallos lot case
WITH a court ruling hanging over them, Cebu City Hall turned to the Commission on Audit (COA) for assistance in avoiding the payment of P133 million to the Rallos family.
In yesterday’s press conference, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama said he asked the COA to remind the court and its sheriff of SC Administrative Circular No. 10-2000 that requires all monetary claims or auctions to be coursed through their office.
“There are powerful forces hell-bent on forcing the city government to release this huge sum of people’s money. To do nothing is to allow this scandalous claim against public funds to reap its unjust rewards,” Rama said.
Regional Trial Court Judge James Himalaloan recently ordered two depository banks of the city to release the “correct account numbers” under the name of the city government to pay for the P133 million the city owned to the Rallos family.
The amount was supposed to pay for the Rallos family-owned lot in barangay Sambag II expropriated by the city in 1963.
From the original P32 million, the amount ballooned to P133 million due to accumulated interest.
Rama said the SC circular meant that government funds and properties may not be seized under writs of execution or garnishment to satisfy court judgments without asking COA’s permission.
He said his request to COA might be unprecedented but the situation calls for desperate action.
Rama said if the ruling is enforced, it will “open the floodgates to other dubious claimants” on the city’s funds.
Rama’s legal consultant Jade Ponce said Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge James Himalaloan couldn’t violate an earlier ruling which mandated sheriff Eugenio Fuentes to comply with the Supreme Court circular.
”This is the rule of law. Nobody is above the law. Not even the judge. Not even the sheriff. It’s high time for COA to actively participate,” Ponce said.
Cebu City Hall failed to secure a reversal of a court ruling that mandated them to pay the Ralloses despite presenting an old convenio or compromise agreement between feuding descendants of the Rallos family in the 1940s.
The documents presented by the city government would purportedly prove that the Sambag II lot was donated by the Ralloses to Cebu City.
Ponce blamed former mayor and now Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City’s south district for this debacle.
“If the previous administration only did their research, we should not have been on this mess,” Ponce told reporters.
Judge Himalaloan threatened to cite in contempt the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVC) and the Philippine Postal Savings Bank (PPSB) should they fail to release the account numbers of the city government within five days from receipt of the order dated Feb. 27, 2012.
The account numbers, the judge said, shall be used by Ralloses to demand from the Cebu City Council to enact an ordinance that will compel the banks to pay the city’s debt of at least P133 million to the family.
Osmeña said if there’s somebody to be blamed for the debt, it should be Rama.
He said the Ralloses were willing to settle for P32 million on an installment basis with no interest during his term in 2002.
But he said Ramos insisted that the city should fight it out.
Osmeña said Councilors Edgar Labella and Jose Daluz III also opposed the city’s payment to the Ralloses.
Labella recently agreed to become Rama’s running mate in next year’s elections, while Daluz supported the candidacy of former Cebu City south district congressman Antonio Cuenco, who supported Rama.
“Now we have a judgment of 133 million and he still doesn’t want to pay. Okay, that’s wonderful, so now they’re going to get 10 hectares of our property which will be worth about P4 billion. Isn’t that great?” an irked Osmeña said.
“When this was discussed in the first budget, the councilors were scared, because they will be accused thinking there was kickbacks involved or things like that. I said don’t be afraid, just think about what’s good for the city,” Osmeña said.
Cebu City Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young said he will meet with the City Council this week to come up with the best solution to the problem.
But Rama insisted that the city shouldn’t pay one centavo to the Ralloses.
Rama said he talked to legal luminaries in Manila who told him that new documents now in the city government’s possession were sufficient to warrant a favorable decision.
Unless resolved in court, the mayor said the Rallos case may wind up like the unsolved assassination of the late senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. because questions may arise on the propriety of the city’s payment to the family.
He said he ordered City Administrator Jose Marie Poblete to foist a tarpaulin over the lot area in barangay Sambag II that was expropriated from the Ralloses.
“How can it be right (to pay the P133 million) when we know it was a road lot? When we know there was a convenio? I am standing on that ground,” Rama said. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Doris C. Bongcac and Patricia Andrea Pateña