Sandiganbayan suspends Guiuan mayor over graft rap

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    GUIUAN, Eastern Samar Mayor Annaliza P. Gonzales-Kwan has been suspended for 90 days by the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division for a two-year-old graft charge.

    The court directed the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to enforce the suspension order on Gonzales-Kwan with a reminder to submit a written report within 15 days stating the actions taken.

    “Accused Annaliza P. Gonzales-Kwan is ordered to cease and desist from further performing and/or exercising the functions, duties, and privileges of her position upon the implementation of this order of preventive suspension,” the Sandiganbayan directed the DILG.

    The suspension will be deemed automatically lifted after 90 days counting from the day that the mayor voluntarily vacates her post for the three-month period or is compelled to do so by the DILG.

    The mayor was indicted in 2017 together with municipal engineer Arsenio Salamida, budget officer Esperanza Cotin, municipal planning and development officer Ma. Nenita Ecleo, administrative officer Felipe Padual, and market supervisor Danilo Colandog for the 2007 procurement of a firetruck worth P1.985 million without the required public bidding.

    Investigators from the Office of the Ombudsman have alleged the contract was awarded to Integrated Energy Systems and Resources Inc. (IERSI) in violation of procurement rules and despite the lack of justification to resort to an alternative mode of procurement.

    Gonzales-Kwan, in her pleading filed October 28, 2019, contested the preventive suspension saying the intentions of the order – which was to prevent an accused from using the position and the powers of his/her office to influence, intimidate or harass potential witnesses; tamper or manipulate records; and to prevent the accused from doing further malfeasance in office – do not apply to her.

    She said she was already a private citizen when the Ombudsman filed the case in 2017 until the prosecution made a formal offer of evidence last March 4 and was elected to her the position only on May 13, 2019.

    The Sandiganbayan noted that the suspension of a public official is anchored only on two requirements: that the accused is an incumbent and that the criminal offense for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or any case involving fraud upon government funds of property is valid.

    “With the concurrence of the two conditions, the suspension pendente lite of accused Gonzales-Kwan becomes mandatory…it becomes the ministerial duty of this Court to issue an order of suspension,” the court said.

    The defendant had previously claimed that the 2013 typhoon Yolanda had destroyed all municipal records and documents, including those pertaining to the 2007 procurement of the firetruck.

    The Sandiganbayan sustained the prosecution’s position that while the arrival of typhoon Yolanda was a matter of public record and may be taken judicial notice of, the rest of the defense submission, specifically the extent of the damage on public records and documents in the safekeeping of the municipal hall cannot.