Backfilling the scandal-tainted Balili property in Naga has earned Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia two new graft complaints.
One case was filed yesterday by Liberal Party gubernatorial candidate Hilario “Junjun” Davide III with the Ombudsman in the Visayas.
Another was filed by Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale and Provincial Board Majority Floor Leader Arleigh Jay Sitoy.
Both moves came with similar pleas to have Garcia placed on preventive suspension while the case is being investigated so that evidence in the ongoing Sandiganbayan cases over the 2008 purchase of the Balili estate is not “tampered”.
The legal action was an expected blow following last month’s field visit to the guarded Balili property, where Magpale and Sitoy saw that foreshore land and a fishpond had been reclaimed and covered with limestone and filling materials.
While Capitol officials insist the “restoration” was legitimate work for a secured landfill to hold coal ash waste, the land conversion has opened Garcia to another Ombudsman investigation.
Governor Garcia earlier said the attacks were “politically motivated” by her election opponents.
The 24.7 hectare property was bought for P98.9 million from the Balili family and is the subject of criminal cases before the Sandiganbayan because most of the land was found to be under water or mangroves.
Davide, who filed his complaint as a “citizen and an aggrieved Cebuano”, made good his promise to hold the governor accountable for allegedly causing fresh damage and spending P27 million for earthmoving work which he said had no approval from the Provincial Board.
He said the governor and Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre should be investigated for various violations:
— Section 3 (e) and (g) of the Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Republic Act 6713.
— grave abuse of authority and gross misconduct uner the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or Republic Act 8550
— illegal conversion of mangrove areas under the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, and
— technical malversation.
Also named respondent was the private contractor Bernabe Gilbor, president and general manager of Supreme ABF Construction and Construction Supply Company based in Bacolod City.
Davide went to the Visayas Ombudsman’s Office to file his complaint at about 9 a.m.
An hour after, his runningmate Vice Governor Magpale and Sitoy showed up to file their own complaint.
The legislators later went to the Department of Local and Interior Government (DILG) regional office to file an administrative complaint addressed to Secretary Mar Roxas.
Their two-page letter-complaint to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales stated similar grounds as Davide’s.
It cited violations of Sec 3 (e) for causing undue injury to the government or giving a private party unwarranted benefits and 3(g) for entering into a contract or transaction that is “grossly disadvantageous” aside from malversation of public funds under the Revised Penal Code.
Both Davide and the legislators said the governor undermined the province’s own lawsuit against the Balili family from which the Capitol is trying to recover P37.8 million for submerged lands the government shouldn’t have paid for.
Copies of Civil Case No. 36559 and a 2009 resolution of the Provincial Board on this lawsuit were submitted as evidence, as well as newspaper clippings of the land reclamation in Naga.
“Governor Garcia, in effect, has committed obstruction of justice by unilaterally tampering with the physical evidence in the Balili area which is now the subject of criminal cases in the Sandiganbayan,” the two legislators said.
In an interview, Davide said he prepared his own complaint and that the cases filed by the Capitol legislators were a separate initiative.
In an interview, Sitoy said they want Garcia to be “imprisoned, suspended, and removed from office.”
“We are just doing our job. We call the attention of anyone who commits a mistake but we don’t want to end up with mere discourse. Action should be taken,” Sitoy told reporters.
Sought for comment, Salubre, the provincial treasurer said he was just following orders in releasing funds for the development of the Balili property.
Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla said the transaction was above board and that Capitol officials are ready to face the charges.
Governor Garcia earlier said she would give a public briefing to explain what’s going on in the Balili property. She said she would invite her critics to a presentation after the Nov. 30 Calungsod thanksgiving Mass.
The filing of the graft cases has preempted that.’
Garcia, in earlier interviews, insisted the Balili development was part of Capitol plans to build a landfill to hold coal ash waste of Kepco-SPC power plants and was covered by an Environmental Compliance Certificate.
In his complaint, Davide said backfilling the submerged portions of the Balili property was done in bad faith.
“The conversion was clearly design to destroy, suppress, or tamper with the evidence for the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan by making them appear now as dry land; to render moot and academic or simply refute the findings of the DENR that the mangrove area and the submereged portions are inalienable and recommending to its head office the filing of appropriate reversion cases; and to give unwarranted benefit or advantage to Gilbor and his company,” Davide said.
Davide, who is up to challenge Garcia’s brother and Rep. Pablo John Garcia for a gubernatorial seat, said the release of P27 million for the restoration works at the Balili property would cause “tremendous great damage and prejudice” to the province.
He said the PB has not approved any budget for the land conversaion and that no bidding was held. /Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter