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Ombudsman orders dismissal of Deputy Speaker Garcia over Cebu property deal

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(Photo from Facebook | @GwenGarcia3rd)


QUEZON CITY/CEBU CITY – The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal from service of Cebu Congresswoman and Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia for grave misconduct in connection with the purchase of property allegedly partly submerged under water.


The Ombudsman directed Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to implement the decision, which carries the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, cancellation of eligibility, and forfeiture of retirement benefits, a statement from the Ombudsman’s office said.


Responding to the order, Garcia, a former governor of Cebu, said the Ombudsman’s decision could have something to do with her active role in the impeachment proceeding against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.


“Without touching on the merits of the case, the timing is rather suspect. It does seem as though the Ombudsman has singled me out on an act that was done when I was governor several years ago, and you’d wonder whether this was purposely done precisely because as you saw, I am very actively in this impeachment hearing against Chief Justice Sereno,” she said.


“Be that as it may, I leave it to the leadership of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as regards that dismissal order,” she added.


Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the House plenary would decide on the dismissal order.


The case stemmed from the purchase of the Balili property in June 2008 when Garcia was Cebu governor.


The property, a sprawling 249,246 square meter lot located in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu, was bought for P98,926,800.00. Local authorities later discovered that 196,696 square meters of the property were underwater and part of a mangrove area, the Ombudsman said.


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/cubic meter. Based on the records, the provincial government released a total of P24,468,927.66 to the winning contractor.


Upon scrutiny, the Ombudsman found that Garcia had no authority from the Sanguniang Panlalawigan when she entered into contracts with ABF Construction, according to the statement.


“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,” the Ombudsman’s office said.


“She failed to point out the specific provision in the appropriation ordinance which supposedly authorized her to enter into the contract,” the Ombudsman said in its January 15, 2018 decision,” it added.


The Ombudsman also 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.”

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