Gwen: Truth will eventually come out
Balili case still pending in Sandiganbayan
REP. Gwen Garcia, former Cebu governor, said she was happy with the lower court’s decision that said she should not be blamed for buying the Balili estate when she was governor because the titles were valid.
“Truth can take a long time and be difficult to reach. However, I’m certain that it will eventually come out,” said Gwen, in a phone interview from Manila who was at the House of Representatives.
She said the ruling echoes what she has been trying to explain about the Capitol’s purchase of the Balili property.
“Judge Yrastorza has quoted the law. Amid all the brouhaha and unfounded accusations against me, just look at the facts of the case. From the very start, all I wanted was to protect the interest of the province,” she said.
Garcia recalled that the Balili family earlier offered the seaside property at over P1,000 per square meter. The Capitol’s Appraisal Committee estimated the market value of the lots at P610 per square meter.
Garcia insisted on buying it at P400 per square meter.
Sought for comment, her daughter lawyer Christina Garcia-Frasco welcomed the outcome of the civil case her mother filed in court in 2010.
“This is a very positive development for us. We are very happy with the factual and legal findings of the honorable court as it is consistent with prevailing law and jurisprudence,” said Frasco in a text message to CDN.
“It has been our position since the very beginning that former governor and now Congresswoman Garcia, in behalf of the Provincial Government of Cebu, is a buyer in good faith who should not be held liable for her reliance on the titles of the Balili properties which did not reveal any infirmities,” she added.
In 2012, the Office of the Ombudsman charged Garcia with two counts of graft and one count of illegal use of public funds for the purchase of the 24.9-hectare Balili Estate.
The case is pending with the Sandiganbayn.
She was charged with four other former Capitol officials— former PB member Juan Bolo, Anthony Sususco, who headed the Cebu Provincial Appraisal Committee, and committee members Roy Salubre, Eulogio Pelayre and Emme
Gingoyon— for being part of the alleged anomalous purchase of the Balili lots in the City of Naga, south Cebu.
Romeo and Amparo Balili were also impleaded in the case.
Aside from the underwater nature of the land, the Ombudsman said Garcia signed the deal with the Balilis despite the province having no funds earmarked for it.
The anti-graft office said Garcia diverted at least P50 million in funds intended for site development and a housing program to pay for part of the estate’s price.
“The disbursement was illegal,” said the Ombudsman.
It said the Provincial Board was made to believe the land was classified as industrial and recreational when it authorized Garcia to pay for the property.
The Ombudsman said Garcia used funds from appropriations for social services to pay the Balilis, exceeding her authority.
Governor Garcia said the coastal property was ideal for developing as an industrial zone.
But a post-purchase geodetic survey made by the Capitol after environmentalists questioned the deal showed that 8 hectares were submerged in seawater and 1.4 hectares were mangroves for a total of 9.4 hectares.
A bigger area of 20.2 hectares was found to be classified as timberland or public land not subject to sale based on a survey by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) survey.
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