Ombud to impose sanctions vs use of gov‘t resources
After reports of government vehicles being used during the political rally of Team Rama Tuesday night, the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas warned that it would impose sanctions on those found using government resources for political ends.
Sanctions include suspension and dismissal from service.
“We are monitoring and evaluating this report. Should we find basis to conduct fact-finding investigation, it will be done discreetly,” said lawyer Ma. Corazon Naraja, spokesperson of the anti-graft office.
In a telephone conference with reporters, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama admitted some government vehicles were used during Team Rama’s opening salvo at the Plaza Independencia last Tuesday. Some Team Rama supporters were also seen riding barangay buses and vehicles going to and from the plaza to attend the activity.
“I wish it will not happen again,” he said.
He directed City Administrator Lucelle Mercado to remind barangay officials, city hall officials and employees not to use government vehicles during political rallies.
It was not only during Team Rama’s rally that government vehicles were used. Barangay vehicles also ferried supporters of former mayor Tomas Osmeña to the kickoff rally of Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK) in Barangay Guadalupe.
Government-owned vehicles, including buses from Barangays Mabolo, Labangon, Lahug and Capitol Site were sighted dropping off supporters in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe church where a Mass was held to start the campaign trail of Osmeña’s BO-PK.
Mabolo Barangay Captain Rey Ompoc said he was not aware that they were barred from using the barangay vehicles for campaign activities.
Ompoc, a staunch BO-PK supporter said he allowed his constituents, who also support Osmeña, the use of the barangay’s buses for the activity.
“Tagsa ra man pud na namo gamiton ang among bus. Kana akong gipagamit kay nananghid man pud sila (We rarely use our bus. I allowed them to use it because they also asked permission to use it),” he said.
Rama said it is difficult to enforce election guidelines especially when election day draws closer and the competition heats up.
“I’m not talking only about the use of government vehicles but most of the Comelec restrictions like those involving posters,” he said.
“Of course it is always good that all candidates will comply but it just cannot be avoided, though I wish it can. It is good that there are restrictions but mark my words, these things will be blatantly violated in the whole country as elections draw closer. Mao nay paga-ingnon ug unsa man, hutdon nila ug dakop tanan (As the saying goes, are they going to arrest everybody)?”
“The law is honored in breach rather than in the observance,” Rama quoted an expression in law which means that a rule is more often broken than observed.
Naraja said the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines prohibits the use of government-owned vehicles and other government resources in election campaigns.
Naraja said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has jurisdiction to conduct preliminary investigation and prosecute election offenses, concurrent with other prosecuting arms of the government, including the Ombudsman.
The anti-graft office has been reminding government officials and employees not to use government-owned vehicles for personal trips otherwise they face reprimand or suspension.
Aside from the Omnibus Election Code, Administrative Order No. 239 prohibits the use of government vehicles, other than for official business and those using it should have a corresponding trip ticket displayed on the windshield.
Erring public servants and those without trip tickets could face liability under various laws including RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Revised Administrative Code of the Philippines, COA circulars, Government Accounting and Auditing Manual, and other executive issuances.
A Toyota Hilux with red plate SKV 577 was seen parked outside the Waterfront Police Station, loaded with food and gallons of mineral water during a Team Rama political rally.
Other government vehicles, including another Toyota Hilux and barangay vehicles from Babag, Poblacion, Pardo and Kalubihan, were also spotted in the vicinity.
Agsungot Barangay Captain Noli Anne Alcover explained that she allowed the use of her City Hall-issued Hilux to ferry barangay residents to Plaza Independencia for the Team Rama rally because she was not aware of any prohibition by law.
She said she did not have second thoughts on allowing the use of the vehicle as some barangay residents, whom she refused to name, requested for it.
“Kanang sakyanan was bought with taxpayers money. Nihangyo man sila nako. Ug akong balibaran maot man sad ko para nila (That vehicle was bought with taxpayers’ money. They requested to use it. If I refused, I’ll be placed in a bad light),” she told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview.
Alcover, daughter-in-law of Pastor “Jun” Alcover who is running for councilor under Team Rama, said she went to the rally on board her privately-owned vehicle.
But she said, there is no excuse for her ignorance of the law. She said she was prepared to face any repercussion on her decision to lend the vehicle to her constituents.
“Wala lang ko nag expect ani but I will accept full responsibility. Ang ako na lang nga lesson learned ni siya,” Alcover added.
In a separate interview, Poblacion Pardo Barangay Captain Althea Lim said members of a homeowners association leased their barangay bus for transportation to Plaza Independencia.
Lim, who is running for councilor under Team Rama, said lease arrangements were made with their barangay treasurer Chris Idul.
Idul said told CDN that about 20 members of the Sitio Kawayan Ville Homeowners Association paid P300 for the use of their barangay bus starting at 3 p.m. until late Tuesday night.
The payment was received by barangay cashier Bella Angcon who also issued a receipt to the homeowners association.
Team Rama’s opening salvo looked like a variety show with each of the group’s candidates presenting either a dance or song number to the public.
Even Vice President Jejomar Binay and his running-mate Senator Gringo Honasan danced along with Team Rama’s candidates.
According to Councilor Dave Tumulak, a Team Rama candidate and head of the city’s Command Control Center, the crowd reached 188,412 as of 7 p.m.
He said he got the figures from personnel at the command center since he was onstage during the activity.
Some city hall department heads and employees also attended the event which started past 7 p.m. and ended at around 11 p.m.
Rama said it’s difficult to prohibit City Hall employees from attending political events like their rally.
“It’s a plaza. If they say they are there to relax and just heard of the event, what can you do when the plaza is a public space? Let them be,” he said.
FOLLOW THE RULES
Tisa Barangay Captain Philip Zafra, president of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) in Cebu City, appealed to fellow barangay captains to observe the prohibition on the use of government vehicles and other government resources during political campaigns.
“We have to be very careful and circumspect about it,” Zafra said.
He said he has yet to hear the explanations of the barangay captains whose vehicles were seen during the rally.
Zafra said he ordered an investigation about it because it could also be that those vehicles were rented.
Meanwhile, Talisay City Mayor Johnny de los Reyes denied using government resources for his campaign.
Contrary to reports, he said, he owns the ambulance with his campaign poster on it.
De los Reyes said he bought the ambulance seven years ago.
He said he offered the services of the ambulance for free because the Talisay City District Hospital’s lone ambulance cannot accommodate all the patients that need to be transferred to Cebu City.
“I can do whatever I want with it since ako man na (I can do whatever I want with it since I own it),” he told CDN.
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