Gwendolyn Garcia barred from holding public office
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has dismissed Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia from public office over an unauthorized, P24.47-million project to backfill a largely underwater property when she was governor of Cebu province in 2012.
The Ombudsman, in a Jan. 15 decision, announced on Monday that Garcia was guilty of grave misconduct and thus permanently disqualified from holding public office.
But Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told reporters in a phonepatch interview that he would “definitely not” enforce the dismissal order.
“I saw nothing in the Constitution, there’s no provision saying that can be done,” Alvarez said.
He said the House of Representatives would not tackle the Ombudsman order in the plenary.
“Why would we waste our time on [an order that has] no legal basis?” he said.
Alvarez said the Ombudsman should have sanctioned Garcia when she was still a governor and under its jurisdiction.
Garcia now holds the seat of the third district of Cebu in the House.
Alvarez said only the House could discipline its members. Garcia said she would leave
the matter to “the sound judgment and the wisdom of the Speaker.”
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas hinted that Garcia’s case could end up like the case of Sen. Joel Villanueva, whose November 2016 dismissal order the Senate refused to enforce because it involved offenses related to his previous position.
In Villanueva’s case, the Ombudsman ruled it had jurisdiction to tackle his alleged misuse of P10-million pork barrel funds as a party-list congressman because the complaint was initiated when he was the head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
The Senate, however, decided it had the sole power to discipline its members.
The Ombudsman media bureau on Monday afternoon corrected its earlier statement that the antigraft watchdog “directed Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to implement the order.”
It said the Ombudsman merely “directed that a copy of the decision be furnished to Speaker
Pantaleon Alvarez for appropriate action”—which could avoid a repeat of the Villanueva case.
Garcia questioned the “timing” of the Ombudsman’s disciplinary action, noting that she played a prominent role in the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
“The timing is rather suspect. It does seem as though the Ombudsman has singled me out. An act that was done when I was still governor several years ago, you’d rather wonder whether this was purposely done,” she said. “As you saw, I’m very active in this impeachment hearing against Chief Justice Sereno.” Garcia said: “It is my duty as elected by my constituents in the third district precisely to represent them and represent their sentiments—I will continue to be active in the impeachment hearing.”
She later issued a press statement claiming her dismissal Was Morales’ “blatant attempt to strong-arm me into helping her escape impeachment by the House of Representatives.”
Garcia also dragged CebuGov. Hilario Davide III into them issue, saying the Ombudsman should resolve her complaint against him in connection with the Cebu International Convention Center controversy “with the same vigor and haste.”
The disciplinary action arose from Garcia’s alleged failure to secure the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s authority when she entered into contracts with ABP Construction in April 2012.
The P24.47-million project pertained to the supply of backfilling materials for the submerged portions of the Balili property in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City.
Garcia argued the P50-million allotment for the “airport/seaport and other economic enterprise site development program” was a valid source of appropriation for the Balili project.
But the Ombudsman said it did not automatically confer authority on Garcia to enter into the backfilling deal.
“She failed to point out the specific provision in the appropriation ordinance [that] supposedly authorized her to enter into the contract,” the Ombudsman said.
This violated Sections 46 and 47, Chapter 8, Subtitle B, Title I, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987 and Section 86 of the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, which bars officials from entering into contracts without a certification of appropriation and fund availability.
The Ombudsman said it was “undisputed” that Garcia only secured the certification when she entered into a second contract for the Balili project.
Besides Garcia, the Ombudsman ordered her co-respondent, former provincial accountant
Emmanuel Guial, now the provincial treasurer, suspended for three months for simple neglect of duty.
The provincial government’s 2008 purchase of the P98.93-million Balili property was itself controversial, as local authorities later discovered that 196,696 square meters, or 79 percent, of the 249,246-square meter property was underwater and part of a mangrove area.
The 2008 purchase is currently subject of pending graft and malversation cases in the Second Division of the Sandiganbayan.—WITH REPORTS FROM CONNIE FERNANDEZ-BROJAN AND MOREXETTE ERRAM INQ
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