DEPUTY House Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia’s adversaries should not yet rejoice over the Office of the Ombudsman’s order dismissing her because she will definitely survive. The anti-graft body ordered Gwen’s dismissal for grave misconduct over the development of the controversial Balili property in the City of Naga when she was still Cebu governor.
Gwen’s dismissal was not due to the purchase of the 25 hectares Balili property, a big portion of which were under water. She was charged administratively and criminally for it by businessman Cris Saavedra but the administrative case ruling was reversed by the Court of Appeals due to the Aguinaldo doctrine.
The criminal case is still pending before the Sandiganbayan, which issued a hold departure order against her.
The current case stemmed from Garcia entering into a contract with Supreme ABF Construction for the backfilling of the submerged and mangrove portion of the property without authority from the Provincial Board (PB). The case was filed by Gov. Hilario Davide III and Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale.
Gwen questioned the timing of the release of the Ombudsman’s order claiming this could be because she is very active in the impeachment case of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is also facing an impeachment complaint before the House.
But I doubt if the anti-graft decision had something to do with Morales’s impeachment case. Maybe the Ombudsman has found enough proof to dismiss her. In an administrative case, what is needed is just a preponderance of evidence, unlike in a criminal case where proof should be beyond reasonable doubt.
But Gwen need not to worry about her dismissal. She survived in the first attempt by going to the CA. She was even cleared in another case involving the construction of the mutlimillion-peso Cebu International Convention Center (CICC). The Sandiganbayan dismissed the case due to mere technicality (the Ombudsman’s delay in filing the case). It was a big slap on the face of the Ombudsman.
The recent Ombudsman’s order does not hold water as far as the House leadership is concerned. We can even consider it as a mere scrap of paper. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he would not enforce the dismissal order because he has no authority under the Constitution to dismiss a House member. Ergo, Gwen will remain as a member of the House while she will raise this decision before the CA.
In most cases, the Ombudsman’s order dismissing a House or Senate member will not hold water if the Congress leadership won’t carry it out. The late senator Meriam Defensor-Santiago was also ordered dismissed but the Senate President (I think it was Franklin Drilon) did not enforce the order.
Cebu City south district Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa was ordered dismissed because of conflict of interest while he was a councilor. But the House leadership did not implement the order because Bebot transferred to the administration’s party, PDP-Laban, and until the CA reversed the Ombudsman’s decision.
Si Gwen pa kahay i-dismiss ni Speaker Alvarez? Iya gud nang deputy. Naka-front seat gud ron si Gwen. Padayon Sugboanon gihapon na.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on February 14, 2018.
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