Sereno camp: No link between impeach hearing, Garcia’s dismissal

By , on February 14, 2018

FILE: Maria Lourdes Sereno (Photo by Supreme Court of the Philippines)
FILE: Maria Lourdes Sereno (Photo by Supreme Court of the Philippines)

MANILA — The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday said the impeachment proceedings against the top magistrate has nothing to do with the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision dismissing former Cebu governor and now 3rd District Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia from service for grave misconduct.

Sereno’s spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao made the comment after Garcia questioned the “timing” of the dismissal order where she described it as “rather suspect” considering that she is “very active” in the impeachment proceedings against Sereno.

“The claim of Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia that the Ombudsman’s decision to dismiss her from government service for grave misconduct is connected to her “vigorous and active role” in the impeachment proceeding against Chief Justice Sereno is bereft of truth and wisdom,” Lacanilao said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is unfortunate that Rep. Garcia is using the ongoing impeachment hearing as an excuse, albeit shallow, for her dismissal from government service and perpetual disqualification from public office rather than check the laws of the land on graft and corruption,” he stressed.

He said that as an independent constitutional body mandated to check on wrongdoings of government officials, the Office of the Ombudsman has its own processes and it makes decisions free from outside control or influence.

“To set the record straight, the Chief Justice has nothing to do with the Ombudsman’s decision. Rep. Garcia was sacked from office for her questionable purchase of a PHP98.9-million underwater property when she was governor of Cebu without the authority of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. She misused public funds to buy a property submerged in the sea. These are the facts of the case and these were the bases of the Ombudsman’s decision,” he noted.

“That she is being singled out by the Ombudsman is totally untrue. The real tragedy lies on the refusal of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to enforce the dismissal order of the Office of the Ombudsman against Rep. Garcia, who seems to be enjoying the special treatment of the House leader,” said Lacanilao.

In its Jan. 15, 2018 decision, the Ombudsman said: “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 added that “Garcia violated Sections 46 and 47, Chapter 8, Subtitle B, Title I, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987 and Section 86 of the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines which proscribe entering into a contract unless a certification of appropriation and fund availability for the expenditure is issued. It is undisputed that the [certification of available funds] was issued only after the [second] contract was entered into by respondent Garcia.”

The Ombudsman is also penalizing Garcia with perpetual disqualification from holding public office, cancellation of eligibility, and forfeiture of retirement benefits.

Ombudsman records showed that on June 11, 2008, Garcia purchased a Balili property, a sprawling 249,246-square-meter lot in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu, for PHP98.93 million.

Local authorities later discovered that 196,696 square meters of the property were underwater and part of a mangrove area.

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.”

The project was awarded to Supreme ABF Construction as the lowest calculated and responsive bidder with a total tendered bid of PHP248.75/cubic meter.

Based on the records, the provincial government released a total of PHP24.47 million to the winning contractor.

Upon scrutiny, the Ombudsman found that Garcia had no authority from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) when she entered into contracts with ABF Construction. (PNA)