Businessman-whistleblower Crisologo Saavedra called on the Sandiganbayan to suspend Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and three other officials facing graft charges filed last July over the 2008 Balili property purchase.
In a manifestation sent to the Sandiganbayan last week, Saavedra said a preventive suspension order should have been issued as a matter of course as soon as the criminal and administrative charges were filed.
“Preventive suspension is intended to stop people from abusing their authority,” he said.
His call followed reports about the discovery of earth-moving or reclamation work going on in the coastal estate, whose submerged state is a key issue in the pending Sandiganbayan case.
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol, in an interview, said a suspension pending litigation is usually issued upon the request of the prosecution after arraignment.
So far, Governor Garcia and three other officials have not yet been arraigned before the Sandiganbayan. The Ombudsman-Visayas is handling the reinvestigation into the Balili property purchase case.
Apostol said a 60-day preventive suspension can only be issued by the Sandiganbayan after arraignment, the stage where respondents are asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Capitol consultant Christina Frasco, daughter of the governor, said Saavedra has “no personality to file the motion because the case is now being handled by the special prosecutor”.
Garcia and three Capitol officials along with three civilians face criminal and administrative charges for the irregular purchase of 24.7 hectares of beach front property in Naga City, southern Cebu. The Capitol paid P98.9 million in two checks to the Balili family for the property, which a survey by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) confirmed was mostly underwater or classified as coastal timberland.
Other respondents were provincial treasurer Roy Salubre, provincial budget officer Emme Gingoyon, retired provincial assessor Anthony Sususco, provincial engineer Eulogio Pelayre, former Provincial Board member Juan Bolo and land owners Amparo and Romeo Balili.
All respondents are out on bail but the Sandiganbayan issued hold departure orders against the eight respondents.
Apostol advised political parties not to use the Ombudsman’s Office to go after their opponents. “I’m not afraid. I’m just doing what is right,” Apostol told reporters.
Gubernatorial candidate Hilario “Junjun” Davide III of the Liberal Party earlier criticized Apostol for being “too scared” to take action against Garcia for ordering reclamation work in the Balili property.
Apostol said he has updated Tanodbayan Conchita Carpio-Morales on the developments, including the accusation of Davide and Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale that the governor has been reclaiming the Balili lot in a P27 million contract without informing the Provincial Board.
Garcia has defended the ongoing earthmoving was “restoration” and not reclamation because the lots have private titles.
Apostol said he informed Morales that the Balili property was being covered with limestone.
Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla said the restoration is covered in the annual budget under a a P50 million outaly for “Site Development and Housing Program”. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter with Correspondent Carmel Loise Matus