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Ombudsman dismisses Gwen Garcia; Lady Cebu rep doubts order's timing

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered former Cebu governor and now Cebu 3rd District Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia dismissed from service for grave misconduct.

The dismissal order, which House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is directed to implement on Monday, stemmed from the lady politician's transaction on a Balili property in Cebu when she was still the province's governor.

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

or her part, Garcia questioned the "timing" of the dismissal order.

Garcia described it as "rather suspect" considering that she is "very active" in the impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

"It does seem as though the Ombudsman has singled me out on an act that was done when I was still governor several years ago and you rather wonder whether this was purposefully done precisely because, as you saw, I am very active in this impeachment hearing against Chief Justice Sereno," Garcia told reporters in an ambush interview on Monday.

While she declined to talk about the merits of the case, Garcia said she will leave it to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez' decision regarding the dismissal order.

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 Sanguniang Panlalawigan (SP) when she entered into contracts with ABF Construction.

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.”

Meanwhile, Garcia’s co-respondent, provincial accountant Emmanuel Guial, was 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.”Guial was ordered suspended for three months.

In case of separation from office, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to Guial’s salary for three months.

However, the administrative charges against Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) Chairperson Marivic Garces; Vice-Chairperson 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.

Perfecto Raymundo, Jr. and Filane Mikee Cervantes / PNA