June 24, 2018, 10:53 pm
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House: Ombudsman trying to reverse CA ruling on Garcia

THE leadership of the House of Representatives yesterday accused Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales of attempting to reverse a Court of Appeals decision absolving Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia who was found guilty of grave misconduct for acts she committed as governor of Cebu.

The House led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said in a statement the Ombudsman’s Jan. 15, 2018 decision dismissing Garcia is an attempt to circumvent the CA’s April 2014 decision which nullified and set aside the Ombudsman’s finding of guilt against Garcia for grave misconduct.

The Ombudsman’s decision, which was made public last Monday, dismissed Garcia for grave misconduct  in connection with the purchase of a property in Cebu in 2012 when she was governor of the province.

“The only plausible explanation for the Ombudsman’s posturing is that it is attempting to reverse a Court of Appeals decision in April 2014,” it said.

Alvarez has made it clear that he has no intention of executing the order because only the House has the power to discipline or remove its members. He said the dismissal order should have been issued when Garcia was still governor and not now that she is a member of the House.

In its decision which has since been affirmed by the Court of Appeals with its denial of the Ombudsman’s motion for reconsideration, the CA found that the Ombudsman gravely abused its discretion and “acted whimsically, capriciously, and arbitrarily amounting to lack of jurisdiction” in finding Garcia guilty of grave misconduct.

“What the Ombudsman could not win in the court of law, she is now trying to win in the court of public opinion,” said the House leadership.

Garcia raised the possibility that the Ombudsman’s ruling could be part of an alleged attempt to stop her from running for governor in 2019, saying the timing was “suspicious.”

It is likely that the 2019 gubernatorial race will be a rematch between Garcia and incumbent Gov. Hilario Davide III, a member of former president Benigno Aquino III’s Liberal Party, whom she defeated in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Morales, like Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, is an Aquino appointee.

“She’s (Morales) calling me guilty of grave misconduct and wants me to be perpetually disqualified from holding public office a few months before the filing of candidacy this October,” Garcia told radio dzBB.

Now that the Ombudsman has come up with a “very shocking” ruling intended to take her out of the race, Garcia said she is “really having serious thoughts of running as governor.”

The House leadership also questioned the timing of the Ombudsman’s ruling, saying it is baffling that the case is being resolved after over five 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 said.

The impeachment complaint against Morales, which was filed by the Volunteer against Crime and Corruption, has not been tackled by the House because not a single congressman has endorsed it.

Garcia was charged for the contract to purchase backfilling materials for the Balili Properties in Cebu in 2012 which, the House leadership said, was duly authorized by an appropriation ordinance passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

In June 2008 as governor, Garcia purchased the Balili property, a sprawling 249,246-square meter lot in Tinaan in Naga, Cebu, for some P98.9 million. Local authorities, however, later discovered that a 196,696-square meter portion of the property was 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 P248.75 per cubic meter. Based on records, the provincial government released some P24.4 million  to the winning contractor.

The Ombudsman said Garcia had no authority from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan when she entered into contracts with ABF Construction.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, a former House member, said “only Congress may suspend or remove its members.

“It is also unfortunate that the decision of the Ombudsman was released at a time when such actions could be given political color. While we leave the merits of the case to the Ombudsman, the release of the decision could have come at a more circumspect time,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor
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