Lapu-Lapu mayor, 3 others suspended
It couldn’t happen at a more awkward time for re-electionist Mayor Paz Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City.
The Sandiganbayan has ordered a 90-day preventive suspension for her and three other officials for a 2002 case of alleged misuse of P15 million in pork barrel funds intended for an anti-drug abuse program of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP).
At the time the funds were released, Radaza was still a private citizen and treasurer of the GSP Cebu chapter.
Today, she’s a newly sworn-in member of the administration’s Liberal Party (LP) seeking a second term with her daughter running for congress in the lone district of Lapu-Lapu.
A 90-day preventive suspension – which is not a penalty or final finding of guilt –- would keep Radaza out of City Hall during the annual fiesta of Lapu-Lapu in November, Christmas, New Year and the Sinulog.
Also ordered suspended by the 5th division of the Sandiganbayan were ex-officio Cebu Provincial Board (PB) Member Celestino “Tining” Martinez III, who was Bogo mayor at the time, and Bogo City Councilors Rhett Minguez and Cresencio Verdida, who at that time served as municipal treasurer and accountant respectively.
The pending graft case focused on the role of former Cebu 4th district Rep. Clavel Asas-Martinez, Tining’s mother, who served as president of the GSP Cebu city chapter.
The order was penned by Associate Justice Roland Jurado, chairman of the Sandiganbayan’s fifth division, and concurred by Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta.
The case was first investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas in 2004.
In Nov. 19, 2001 the Cebu Provincial Board passed resolution calling the Cebu Councils of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and the Girl Scouts of the Philippines to include in their programs an anti-drug campaign to be funded by the 2002 PDAF allocation of then Congresswoman Martinez who was president of the GSP Cebu Councils.
Graft charges were filed in July 2014 against the congresswoman and seven others before the Sandiganbayan.
They are all out on bail. The suspension is automatic under Section 13 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act which makes mandatory the suspension of “any public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act” is pending in court.
No suspension order has been issued against former congresswoman Martinez, GSP Cebu City executive director Alejandrita Meca, cashier-designate Julieta Quiño and bookeeper Rhodariza Kilantang because they are currently not holding any government position.
The Martinez family of Bogo City are key supporters of President Benigno Aquino III and the Liberal Party.
Sought for comment, Radaza’s PR consultant Jonji Gonzales expressed surprise at the order.
“Neither Mayor Paz nor her counsel have received a copy of such order… We will respond to it in due time,” said Gonzales in a text message.
He said a preventive suspension is intended to keep an accused from using his or her position to influence witnesses or tamper with evidence of a pending case.
“But since she is no longer connected with the Girl Scouts, it is unlikely that she can influence witneses nor the evidence of the case. That is why she’s surprised,” Gonzales said.
He said the case has nothing to do with Radaza’s present official functions as mayor of Lapu-Lapu City.
“In her five years as mayor, she has never been involved in a corruption case. In fact, she has received numerous recognition on good governance by the national government,” he added.
Businessman and mayoralty candiate Efrain Pelaez Jr., who has filed graft complaints against Radaza since 2008, was dropped by the Liberal Party this month as its candidate in Lapu-Lapu.
“The suspension of Paz Radaza only confirms the wrong choice of official candidate to represent the LP and Daang Matuwid. It should hever have sacrificed principle over political expedience. They are now the laughing stock of Lapu-Lapu City , if not the whole of Cebu,” said Pelaez.
Radaza’s lawyers had earlier filed an appeal with the Sandiganbayan not to suspend her citing the same reason, that she was not a public official yet in 2002 and that a preventive suspension under Republic Act 3019 would not apply in this case.
A preventive suspension, aside from preventing an accused from using his or her power to influence potential witnesses or tamper with records, is to “prevent an accused from committing further acts of malfeasance while in office.”
Based on the Ombudsman’s investigation, all eight accused “conspired with each other through evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence to defraud public funds.”
Of the P15 million pork barrel funds that was supposed to go to the GSP-Cebu City, only P600,000 was given. The rest allegedly went to former Congresswoman Martinez.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released P15 million under a Special Release Allotment Order.
The Commission on Audit and GSP of Cebu City discovered that there was no Memorandum of Agreement between the Bogo municipal government and the GSP.
The funds were released in two tranches of P7.5 million each upon written request of Meca, the GSP executive director, to former Mayor Martinez, the congresswoman’s son.
The anti-graft office said Tining, Minguez and Verdida disregarded the proper procedure in disbursing the PDAF, had control over the funds and were accountable for them.
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