WHAT WENT BEFORE: Gwendolyn Garcia case
In 2008, then Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia approved the purchase of property worth P98.9 million from Romeo and Amparo Balili for a housing project of the provincial government.
The 24.7-hectare coastal property was located in Tinaan village, Naga City, 21.7 kilometers south of Cebu City. Local authorities, however, discovered later that 9.3 ha of the property were underwater and covered with mangrove.
In August 2009, Garcia apologized to the people of Cebu for what she said were lapses in the purchase of the property.
Lawyer Marino Martinquilla, the provincial attorney, was expected to demand the Balilis refund P37.8 million, the cost of the submerged portion of the property.
Garcia’s critics, however, asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and bring charges against provincial officials.
Former Sen. John Osmeña wrote the antigraft office, asking to examine the deal and saying Garcia’s apology could not erase her criminal and administrative liabilities.
In November 2010, the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas ordered Garcia and other provincial officials investigated for possible graft.
In July 2012, the Ombudsman charged Garcia with two counts of graft and one count of illegal use of public funds at the Sandiganbayan over the purchase of the property.
Charged with Garcia were seven other Cebu officials.
In January 2013, after being suspended by the Office of the President for six months for grave abuse of authority, Garcia was found by the Ombudsman guilty of grave misconduct for misusing public funds to buy a private property submerged in the sea and was ordered to face trial on two counts of graft and one count of technical malversation, or illegal use of public funds.
The Ombudsman said the parties, particularly Garcia, acted with gross inexcusable negligence in the purchase of the Balili estate, with the landowner admitting that no survey was conducted before the sale agreement was signed.
In April 2014, the Court of Appeals nullified the decision of the Ombudsman that held Garcia administratively liable for the purchase of the property. But Garcia still faced three graft cases at the Sandiganbayan for buying the property.
In his ruling, Executive Justice Gabriel Ingles of the appeals court in Cebu said the Ombudsman acted “whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily” when it adjudicated the administrative case against Garcia even if she was reelected governor in 2010. —INQUIRER RESEARCH
Source: Inquirer Archives
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