Ombudsman dismisses Cebu Congresswoman Gwen Garcia

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales ordered the dismissal from service of former Cebu governor and now 3rd District Representative Gwendolyn Garcia for grave misconduct in connection with the purchase of a sprawling property for close to P100 million.

The Ombudsman sent a copy of the order to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for "appropriate action."

The dismissal order carries the penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, cancellation of eligibility, and forfeiture of retirement benefits, said a statement from the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday, February 12. (READ: Garcia questions 'timing' of dismissal: Ombudsman 'singled me out')

On June 11, 2008, Garcia bought the 249,246-square-meter Balili property in Tinaan, Naga in Cebu for P98,926,800. More than half of the property, however, (or 196,696 square meters) was found to be part of a mangrove area.

In April 2012, the local government conducted public bidding "for the supply and delivery of backfilling materials and other incidentals of its submerged and mangrove portions" and awarded the contract to Supreme ABF Construction.

No authority

Having offered the lowest calculated bid with its P248.75 per cubic meter, Supreme ABF Construction was paid by the provincial government over P24 million, or specifically P24,468,927.66. The Ombudsman, however, found that Garcia was not given authority by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) to enter into contracts with the company.

The January 15, 2018 decision made public only on February 12 said: "While this Office finds merit in 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 also said Garcia violated the government's Administrative Code of 1987 and the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines which require the issuance of a certification of appropriation and fund availability before entering into a contract.

"It is undisputed that the [certification of available funds] was issued only after the [second] contract was entered into by respondent Garcia," the Ombudsman said.

In 2014, citing the Aguinaldo doctrine, the Court of Appeals absolved Garcia of administrative liabilities in connection with the land deal. The Aguinaldo doctrine, however, does not apply to criminal cases against an elected official. It stems from a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, which reversed the dismissal of former Cagayan Governor Rodolfo Aguinaldo on account of his reelection.

As deputy speaker, Garcia is ex-officio member of the powerful House justice committee, which is hearing the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Co-respondent

Garcia's co-respondent, provincial accountant Emmanuel Guial, was found guilty of simple neglect of duty for falsely certifying in the disbursement vouchers that supporting documents were complete when in fact they weren't, as Garcia had no authority from the SP to enter into a contract. He was ordered suspended for 3 months.

If he is no longer in office, the penalty will be convertible to a fine equivalent to Guial's salary for 3 months.

The Ombudsman dismissed for lack of merit administrative charges against bids and awards committee chairperson Marivic Garces; vice chairperson Bernard Calderon; members Manuel Purog, Emme Gingoyon, Maria Junelene Arenas, Cristina Giango, Rosalinda Jao; and acting provincial treasurer Roy Salubre. – Rappler.com