SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez refused to act on an order by the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia (3rd District) after she was found administratively liable for grave misconduct involving a five-year-old case in which she was Cebu governor.
In a ruling released on Monday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said then Governor Garcia was not authorized to enter into a contract with ABF Construction “for the supply and delivery of backfilling materials and other incidentals of” the Balili property’s “submerged and mangrove portions.”
“While this Office finds merit on her assertion that the P50 million allotment for the airport/seaport and other economic enterprise site development program (a capital outlay expenditure that was carried over to the 2012 Annual Budget of the province), was a valid source of appropriation for the Balili project, such appropriation did not validly confer authority to respondent Garcia to enter into a contract with ABF Construction for the Balili project. She failed to point out the specific provision in the appropriation ordinance which supposedly authorized her to enter into the contract,” the Ombudsman said in its January 15 decision.
The Ombudsman ordered Alvarez be furnished a copy of for appropriate action.
In a phone patch interview with GMA 7, Alvarez said that “[m]y appropriate action is not to implement the order.”
“Because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows me to do that. In fact, it is not within the power of the Ombudsman to discipline, much more to remove any member of the House of Representatives. So ‘pag ginawa ko ‘yan, I will be violating the Constitution since mayroong nakalagay sa Constitution na kami lang yung may kapangyarihan na mag-discipline at remove ng member of the House of Representatives,” he said.
(Because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows me to do that. In fact, it is not within the power of the Ombudsman to discipline, much more to remove any member of the House of Representatives. So if I do that, I will be violating the Constitution since the Constitution provides that it is only us who have the power to discipline and remove a member of the House of Representatives.)
“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,” he added.
Sought for comment, Garcia said in a chance interview that she would leave it to the leadership, to the Speaker, on his decision regarding the dismissal order, which also carries penalties of “perpetual disqualification from holding public office, cancellation of eligibility and forfeiture of retirement benefits.”
In a statement, Garcia also said that the timing of the Ombudsman’s ruling to dismiss her was “highly suspicious, and amounts to a blatant attempt to strong arm me into helping her escape impeachment by 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 [Maria] 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. My dismissal from service at her hands makes her motivation far too obvious,” Garcia said.
Garcia said the contract to purchase backfilling materials “was duly authorized by an Appropriation Ordinance passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.”
The Cebu provincial government purchased the 249,246 square-meter Balili property in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu, for P98.9 million in 2008, according to the Ombudsman in a statement.
“Local authorities later discovered that 196,696 square meters of the property were underwater and part of a mangrove area,” the Ombudsman said.
“In April 2012, the local government conducted a public bidding ‘for the supply and delivery of backfilling materials and other incidentals of its submerged and mangrove portions,’” it stated, adding that this “project was awarded to Supreme ABF Construction as the lowest calculated and responsive bidder with a total tendered bid of P248.75/cubic meter.”
“Based on the records, the provincial government released a total of P24,468,927.66 to the winning contractor,” the Ombudsman said.
“Upon scrutiny, the Ombudsman found that Garcia had no authority from the Sanguniang Panlalawigan (SP) when she entered into contracts with ABF Construction,” according to the statement.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman found then-Provincial Accountant Emmanuel Guial administratively liable for simple neglect of duty and ordered him suspended for three months. The penalty, in case it is no longer enforceable, is convertible into a fine equivalent to his salary for three months.
Guial allegedly certified “in the subject [disbursement vouchers]that the supporting documents are complete when in fact they lacked the required authority from the SP for respondent Garcia to enter into contract.”
The House and Morales have been at odds after she refused to enforce an order from President Rodrio Duterte to suspend her Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang for allegedly leaking evidence on the Chief Executive’s hidden wealth.
Citing a Supreme Court ruling, Morales said that it was only the Office of the Ombudsman that could suspend its staff. REINA TOLENTINO