Effect of missing P90M: Wages, bills unpaid
LAOAG CITY—The salaries of at least 41 city employees were not released on June 15, and City Hall’s electricity and telephone bills may not be paid on time because of the ongoing investigation on the missing P90-million funds of the city government.
A team from the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF), the Commission on Audit and the provincial treasurer’s office has taken control over the city treasurer’s office. Meanwhile, all city transactions have been frozen as the team examines the accounts entered into by the office.
The treasurer, Elena Asuncion, has vanished and is believed to have fled to the United States after irregularities in the city’s financial records have been detected by other city fiscal managers.
The suspension of transactions meant the city government may incur arrears for unpaid utility bills and delay payment for some of its other obligations, said Laoag City administrator Cipriano Hilarion Martinez.
He said the situation may last for a week until a final evaluation and analysis of the city’s finances is completed.
The investigation has dampened Laoag’s 51st Charter Day celebration on Sunday, which would be formally commemorated today.
City residents have expressed their outrage online. Herdy Yumul, an instructor of the Mariano Marcos State University, said, “It is difficult to believe that only the treasurer is to blame for this malfeasance. It is easy to believe that other city officials who live way beyond their means, who have built palaces for themselves and have bought more luxury cars than the average greedy person desires, are conspirators… or actual masterminds.”
Reelected Mayor Chevylle Fariñas said officials discovered the missing funds when the city government enforced a new Commission on Audit memorandum that required local finance officials to verify their accounts with banks.
Fariñas said officials discovered that time deposits and savings accounts, opened under the name of the Laoag City government as recorded in the treasury’s financial reports, were fictitious, after a check made with the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Rang-ay Rural Bank.
The investigating team also discovered that cash collections secured in the city’s vault have disappeared.
A closed circuit television (CCTV) footage from the city’s information technology department showed a woman, believed to be Asuncion, carrying two bags as she left the treasury office at 5 p.m. on June 10, said Supt. Edwin Balles, Laoag police chief.
Asuncion’s house at Northcrest Subdivision in Laoag City has been secured by the police.
Reached for comment on Friday, City Accountant Edgar Pascual said he would issue a statement after he had reviewed all city documents. Pascual is tasked with preparing and submitting financial statements to the mayor and the city council.
“Too many procedures were not followed. Had these been followed, we would not be in this situation. That’s what is sad,” Martinez said.
“Looking back, as the city administrator, I should have taken a closer look at [city finances]. I don’t interfere with the local finance committee,” he added.
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