Occidental Mindoro mayor sacked over P2.9-M tobacco fund misuse

MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has affirmed the dismissal of Mayor Jose Villarosa of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, and two other officials for misusing the municipality’s tobacco trust fund in 2010. 

Also ordered dismissed were municipal accountant Pablo Alvaro and municipal treasurer Carlito Cajayon, the Ombudsman said in a statement on Thursday, January 14.

Morales directed Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento to implement the dismissal order on the officials, who were found guilty of grave misconduct, dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. They also face technical malversation charges.

The officials have been perpetually barred from re-employment in the government service and also meted the accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility and forfeiture of retirement benefits.  

The Ombudsman said that in case of separation from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to the respondent’s one year salary.

Farmers' fund used for Xmas lights, snacks

Based on the investigation, Villarosa authorized the use of P2.9 million ($60,872) from the tobacco trust fund to purchase 10 multi-cab vehicles, Christmas lights, meals and snacks for newly-elected barangay captains, medicines, gravel and sand, bus and vehicle rentals.

This runs counter to the purpose of the trust fund which, the Ombudsman said, "should be used solely for cooperative, livelihood and or agro-industrial projects that enhance the quality of agricultural products, develop alternative farming systems, or enable tobacco farmers to manage and own post-harvest enterprises.”

"No genius is required to discern the disparity between the Legislature’s declared policy and respondents’ actual expenditures,” the Ombudsman said in a Joint Resolution.

She added that “the diversion of funds resulted in the deprivation of farmers who were the intended beneficiaries.”

"[The] respondents’ concerted acts, seen in the light of their years in public office, were certainly motivated by a clear and flagrant intent to violate the law and disregard established rules," Morales said.

Charges vs Bogo mayor, vice mayor

The Ombudsman also affirmed the recommendation of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Cebu to file grave coercion charges against Bogo City Mayor Celestino "Junie" Martinez Jr and two others over an incident in 2010 involving the official's rival.

Charged with Martinez are Vice Mayor Santiago Sevilla and lawyer Jose Carlo Martinez, the Ombudsman said in a statement on Tuesday, January 12.

This comes  6 years after the tense 4-hour standoff in Bogo City between Martinez and his rival, Benhur Salimbangon.

Salimbangon has accused the Martinezes – the ruling political dynasty in Bogo – of barring him from leaving Polambato Elementary School during the May 2010 elections.

In her review, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales affirmed the findings of the investigation.

"It is clear that when the complainants were prevented from moving their vehicles within the area of Palombato Road in Bogo City and respondents searched the vehicles of the complainants, there was such a display of material force which necessarily produced intimidation, and in effect, controlled the will of the complainants," Morales said.

Use of intimidation is a violation of Article 286 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). Coercion is committed when a person "who, without authority of law, shall, by means of violence, prevent another from doing something not prohibited by law, or compel him to do something against his will."

The Ombudsman found that the Martinezes and other supporters verbally abused the group of Salimbangon.

Martinez told local newspaper Cebu Daily News: “I won’t issue any comment for now. I was only informed about this just now. But if ever that’s true, I’m willing to face trial."

Salimbangon, district chair of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), will face off with Martinez again as they both gun for Cebu's 4th District in the House of Representatives. – with a report from Ryan Macasero/Rappler.com

US$1 = P47.64