CEBU City Councilor James Anthony Cuenco thought the complaint against him involving the use of P3.4 million in 2002-2004 pork barrel funds of his father, former congressman Antonio Cuenco, had been over.
 The basis was merely the affidavit of James Yrastorza, a former employee in the “Tony-&-Tommy” office at City Hall that screened beneficiaries of medical aid. And reference to the councilor was only a line in Yrastorza’s affidavit, “OK na si James.”
 In an Aug. 13 decision that year (GR #198457), the Supreme Court upheld disallowance of P3.386 million against four employees of Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, including its hospital chief and administrative officer. Using the ruling, Tony filed a motion to dismiss, which Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved by dropping him from the local ombudsman’s probe.
The Sotto employees, the investigation found, released the money, knowing prescriptions and other papers were falsified, allegedly prepared at the screening office in collusion with a pharmacy owner who had since fled the country.
The order, issued last week, which found James, as his father’s chief of staff, guilty of serious dishonesty and grave misconduct and evicting him from office thus shocked the councilor.
He must not have thought the ombudsman would go beyond the whistle-blower’s “OK na si James” line. He must have considered that his dad’s exclusion from the probe got him off too.
He’d still have the chance to mount a more substantial defense in his appeal to high courts and, maybe, in the criminal aspect of the case before the Sandiganbayan.
Impact on party
Aside from the impact on the career and personal life of James and his family, his ouster from the City Council also influences the squabble over control of the legislative body, the “hunger games” that distract both parties from the city’s major ills.
James’ replacement, who’s to come from Team Rama under UNA’s nomination, will keep existing numbers for the contending parties.
But until those who succeed Hanz Abella who resigned and James Cuenco who has been dismissed are officially appointed by the executive secretary (for the president) and are qualified and seated, it’s minus two on Team Rama’s side.
There’s also the chance that BOPK could pull the stunt that PDP-Laban did in Lapu-Lapu City when its member, one Jeanify Tan-Dungog, was appointed to fill the seat vacated last March by the death of Damian Gomez Jr., a Liberal Party member.
A violation of the Local Government Code and “null and void” under the said law and yet has remained unchallenged and un-rectified. Why? Lapu-Lapu Mayor Paz Radaza seems to think it’s futile to go against the president. Though, she must know, the lawsuit will be against the executive secretary, not the president and it’s for upholding the law, not to question policy on drugs or anyones wealth.
Accept or fight
The Rama camp can be complacent, as James Cuenco must have been in defending himself while others, such as BOPK’s Bebot Abellanosa (in his conflict-of-interest case while he was councilor), were not.
Team Rama could be as meek as Lapu-Lapu Mayor Paz Radaza was when her party was openly violated. Or they might choose to fight for the City Council seats the law says are rightfully theirs.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on October 06, 2017.
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