Ex-assistant Visayas ombudsman in the hot seat-A A +A
Sunday, October 21, 2012
CEBU CITY -- Three months after she retired, Virginia Santiago, former assistant Visayas ombudsman, is being accused of conspiring with Graft Investigator Roderick Blazo to indict three public officials for graft in 2004.
Lawyer Teopisto Melliza, in his pleading, said she and Blazo twisted facts of the case so the respondents could be charged.
Melliza represents Jaime Esmeralda, mayor of Igbaras town in Iloilo; former town treasurer Cynthia Cabanero; and Pio Elumba, then the mayor’s secretary.
They plan to file a damage suit against Santiago and Blazo after they received the order of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales reversing Santiago’s decision and clearing the three officials.
The case stemmed from the complaint filed by a graft watchdog in Iloilo City over an allegedly anomalous P1-million road rehabilitation in Igbaras.
In a memorandum dated February 15, 2007, Santiago pointed out that during the ocular inspection, the road was not graded and culverts were not laid out.
“The positive attestation of the constituents that there was no implementation of the project clearly established that the project is indeed a ‘ghost project’ to the prejudice of the government,” Santiago said in the memo.
“It is also well established that the disbursements of funds were done in malice in line with conspiracy perpetrated by the respondents,” the memo read.
Santiago recommended the dismissal from service of Cabanero and Elumba for dishonesty.
Esmeralda was spared from administrative liability following his reelection, pursuant to the Aguinaldo Doctrine.
Santiago also recommended the filing of a criminal case against the respondents for allegedly violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, before the Sandiganbayan.
Santiago’s memo was based on the final evaluation report of Blazo, who concluded that the existing road surface was not graded and finished.
“The furnishing, placing and compacting of aggregate base course on a prepared sub-base in accordance with specification and the lines, grades, and thickness and typical section of the road was not established,” said Blazo in his findings.
Blazo said he asked residents in the area whether they saw filling materials or heavy equipment on the roads subjected for rehabilitations, and they allegedly said no.
The respondents filed their respective motions for reconsideration, but were denied.
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol, in his comment to Santiago’s memo, said Blazo could hardly prove the questioned road supplies and materials were not delivered, or that it was a ghost project.
“The ombudsman investigator undoubtedly saw unused but delivered supplies and materials during the ocular inspection,” Apostol said.
He also said the interviews Blazo conducted in the area were not properly documented.
“The case records don’t show the identities of those people who were actually interviewed,” Apostol said.
Apostol recommended granting the respondents’ motion for reconsideration and dismissal of the case for lack of evidence.
Ombudsman Morales said the defense presented by the respondents sufficiently rebutted the allegations of the graft investigator.
Morales cited the state auditors’ report, which said that the actual volume of the aggregate base course delivered could not be determined since these were spread out over time.
“This fact belies the claim that there was a ‘ghost project’,” she said.
In the pleading, Melliza accused Santiago and Blazo of conducting a bogus investigation.
He said the case would not have reached the anti-graft court had Santiago been judicious enough in their investigation.
He asked the ombudsman to furnish the Bureau of Local Government Finance with copy of its order, with the instruction to reinstate Cabanero and Elumba to their previous posts. (Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 21, 2012.