February 18, 2018, 5:59 am
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Ombudsman orders Garcia dismissed; Alvarez says no way

OMBUDSMAN Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered the dismissal of Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia for grave misconduct in connection with acts committed when she was still the governor of Cebu.

The Ombudsman also directed that a copy of the January 15, 2018 decision be furnished to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez “for appropriate action.”

Alvarez said he will not implement the Ombudsman’s order because he could not find any legal basis to do it.

“My appropriate action is not to implement the order,” he said. “Why? 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.”

Alvarez said he would be violating the Constitution by implementing the order since it is clear that only the House has the power to discipline or remove members.

He said the dismissal order should have been issued when Garcia was still governor and not now that she is a congresswoman.

“The decision was late, that order was late. It should have been issued when she was still a sitting governor,” he said.

Majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas cited the case of Sen. Joel Villanueva who was also ordered dismissed by Morales over the allegedly anomalous use of his P10-million pork barrel allocation when he was still a congressman.

“The most reason you have to look at is the case of Joel Villanueva. He was dismissed by the Ombudsman but the Senate did not implement it, did it?” Fariñas told reporters.

Fariñas said it is not only the Speaker but the entire House of Representatives that will have to decide on the matter.

“It’s in our rules that any order coming from the court or whatever administrative body, we have to first determine if the order is valid and if it is relevant to our rules and everything. We’ll refer that to the plenary,” he said.

Last December 2016, the Senate voted to adopt the legal opinion of the Senate counsel against the dismissal of Villanueva, stressing that Congress has the power to discipline its own members.

Garcia said the Ombudsman may be getting back at her for being active in the hearing on lawyer Larry Gadon’s impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who, like Morales, was also appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III.

“The timing (of the order) is rather suspect. It does seem as though the Ombudsman has singled me out. (It was based on) an act that was done when I was still governor several years ago, you’d rather wonder whether this was purposely done. As you saw, I’m very active in this impeachment hearing against Chief Justice Sereno. Be that as it may, I leave it to the leadership, to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, on his decision as regards to that dismissal order,” she said.

Garcia vowed to continue working hard as a legislator, including being active in the impeachment hearings.

It will be recalled that on June 11 2008, then Gov. Garcia purchased the Balili property, a sprawling 249,246 square meter lot located in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu, for P98,926,800.00.

Local authorities, however, 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 P248.75 per cubic meter. Based on the records, the provincial government released a total of P24,468,927.66 to the winning contractor.

The Ombudsman found that Garcia had no authority from the Sanguniang Panlalawigan (SP) when she entered into contracts with ABF Construction.

“While this Office finds merit on her assertion that the P50million 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’s decision said.

The Ombudsman said Garcia also 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 decision said.

Garcia’s co-respondent, Provincial Accountant Emmanuel Guial was ordered suspended for three months after being found guilty of simple neglect of duty “for certifying 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 administrative charges against Bids and Awards Committee chair Marivic Garces; vice-chair Bernard Calderon; members Manuel Purog, Emme Gingoyon, Ma. Junelene Arenas, Cristina Giango, Rosalinda Jao; and Acting Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre were dismissed for lack of merit.
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