But Speaker won’t implement Ombudsman’s dismissal order vs Garcia
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has dismissed Deputy Speaker and Cebu 3rd District Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia from Public Office over the unauthorized P24.47 million project to backfill a largely underwater property that was bought when she was governor.
But Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has no plans of implementing the order, saying it was violative of the Constitution.
Garcia, for her part, said the decision was a “blatant attempt” to stop the looming impeachment of Morales in the House of Representatives.
In a Jan. 15 decision, the Ombudsman announced on Monday that Garcia was guilty of the administrative offense of grave misconduct and was permanently disqualified from holding public office.
The dismissal order carries the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, cancellation of eligibility and forfeiture of retirement benefits.
The disciplinary sanction arose from Garcia’s alleged failure to secure the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s authority when she entered into the 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 in southern Cebu.
Garcia had 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 for Garcia to enter into the backfilling project deal.
“She failed to point out the specific provision in the appropriation ordinance which 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 and now – Provincial Treasurer Emmanuel Guial, suspended for three months for simple neglect of duty.
The administrative charges against Bids and Awards Committee Chairperson Marivic Garces; Vice – Chairperson Bernard Calderon; members Manuel Purog, Emme Gingoyon, Ma. Junelene Arenas, Cristina Giango, Rosalinda Jao; and Acting Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre were dismissed for lack of merit.
The provincial government’s 2008 purchase of the P98.93 million land was itself already 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 before the Sandiganbayan Second Division.
But Garcia said the decision amounts to “a blatant attempt to strong arm me into helping her escape impeachment” at the House of Representatives.
“Considering that I have been vigorously and actively involved in the dispatch of impeachment complaints such as the one against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, it is no surprise that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who now faces an impeachment complaint against her, would want to have the impeachment complaint dismissed by strong arming key members of Congress such as myself,” she said.
“My dismissal from service at her hands makes her motivation far too obvious,” she added.
But Garcia said she would leave it to the leadership of Alvarez to decide what to do with the dismissal order.
Alvarez, however, was bent on ignoring the Ombudsman order.
“My appropriate action is not to implement the order … Why? Because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows me to do that,” he said in a press release.
Alvarez said that it was not within the power of Morales to discipline any member of the House of Representatives even if the case linked Garcia to the time when she was Cebu’s governor.
He cited Paragraph 3, Section 16 of Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which provides “each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member.”
Alvarez also pointed out that the dismissal order stemmed from an act when Garcia was governor and not as a congresswoman.
“Baka late yung desisyon, late yung order. Dapat nilabas yung order nung siya ay isang gobernador pa lang (May be the decision came out late. The order should have been released when she was still governor),” Alvarez said.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said Garcia’s case could end up like the similar case of Senator Joel Villanueva, whose November 2016 dismissal order the Senate refused to enforce for being related to offenses from 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 (TESDA).
But, the Senate decided it had the sole power to discipline its members.
“The Ombudsman dismissed him as Tesda chief. But the Senate did not implement it, right?” Fariñas told reporters. “It’s like that. Think of it, [former Governor Garcia] was elected congressman.”
In a separate statement, Garcia said the Ombudsman was attempting to reverse a Court of Appeals decision in April 2014 that nullified the Ombudsman’s finding of guilt for Grave Misconduct for the purchase of the Balili Properties.
The decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, she added, which ruled that the Ombudsman gravely abused its discretion and “acted whimsically, capriciously, and arbitrarily amounting to lack of jurisdiction.”
What the Ombudsman could not win in the court of law, she was now trying to win in the court of public opinion, Garcia said.
The congresswoman said the purchase of backfilling materials for the Balili Properties in 2012 was duly authorized by an Appropriation Ordinance passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
“Why resolve this case only now, over 5 years after its filing? With the pending impeachment complaint against the Ombudsman in which Deputy Speaker Garcia would be actively involved in its dispatch, being ex officio member of the Justice Committee and a vigorous participant, Ombudsman Morales now seems to have the leverage to influence and secure the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against her,” the statement said.
But Garcia’s co-accused was willing to comply with the order of the Ombudsman.
“As of now, I haven’t received a copy of the decision yet. But when I do, I’ll be seeking help from a legal counsel. In the meantime, I’m alright on subjecting to the Ombudsman’s orders,” said Guial.
Garcia said she had not been given a copy of the resolution and was not given the opportunity to file a reconsideration.
She said she hoped that the Ombudsman would also act on her complaint against Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, the complainant of the case that triggered her dismissal.
“I certainly hope that the Ombudsman will act on my complaint regarding Davide’s criminal neglect of the CICC (Cebu International Convention Center) with the same vigor and haste, and that the public would see through the Ombudsman’s blatant abuse of power to shield herself from being impeached and held accountable for her own questionable actions,” she said.
Garcia has filed a complaint against Davide in 2015 for allowing the CICC to remain in a dilapidated state.
The CICC was built in 2006 when Garcia was governor to be used as venue for the hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Cebu.
Incidentally, Garcia was facing graft charges for the anomalous procurement of the CICC which was built at P840 million. /With Inquirer, Connie Fernandez-Brojan and Morexette Erram