>By Pet Melliza, THE BEEKEEPER
At the conference of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2008, US Pres. George W. Bush ranted on the “axis of evil” naming Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, among it.
The next day, it was the Latin American leader’s turn to rile back. “The devil,” noted Chavez, “stood here yesterday; this podium still reeks of sulphur”.
We can no longer say the same today of the Ombudsman regional office at the ground floor of CAP Building, Luna St., Iloilo City. It no longer smells of sulphur.
Since this space has run a series on her, Virginia Palanca-Santiago, W. Visayas regional director and concurrently, assistant ombudsman for the Visayas, made her presence scarce in Iloilo. Her office is bare and we fear that she would be slipping silently into retirement. We have written throughout, and this is already the 22nd of the series, that Virginia Palanca-Santiago should not be given that privilege.
She should be investigated for corruption for brazenly rigging her decision in People’s Graftwatch of Iloilo, Inc. vs Jaime Esmeralda, et al.
The evidence submitted by the complainant does not support the administrative conviction of the respondents. The investigation conducted was rigged and is not supported by facts. The complainant submitted thick wads of affidavits, all lifted from a single template with only the names and personal circumstances of the affiants differing, all pointing to the grist of the complaint that P1 million road re-graveling project that Esmeralda et al did in April 2004 was “ghost”, that is, he and his co-accused pocketed the fund.
The affidavits backing up the complaint all stated that there was no sighting of dump trucks delivering sand and gravel, and of graders and bulldozers levelling and compacting the surface materials.
When quack investigator Roderick Blazo went to the scene to inspect, five months after the fact, he found traces of implementation that would have sufficed to trash the ghost project theory but he shifted theory by stating that the project was substandard and faulted the respondents for that.
His conclusion is idiotic because he applied the standard for road construction, or asphalting or concreting. He went to the scene five months after the fact, the mountain road already having been eroded by rains, and concluded the implementation was substandard because some portions of the road had zero sand and gravel while those that had, were less than one-inch thick which did not conform to specification.
Still, some sections of the road were less than three meters in wide, again the fault of Esmeralda, et al, goes his idiotic conclusion.
He found steel bars, concrete culverts and bags of cement on one portion which were part of the project, again, another evidence disproving the ghost project yarn. But quack investigator Blazo shifted theory once more by holding the respondents liable for the deteriorated materials without further investigation.
The quack investigator did not reckon the fact that he came only five months after the implementation. He did not even bother to see records at the Igbaras town hall. Had he been worth his salt as investigator, he could have found that the subject for re-gravelling spanned six kilometres of mountain roads; of the P1 million allotted for the project, P150,000 was for labor which was still intact at the treasury. The rest was for sand and gravel and the drainage where quack investigator Blazo saw the concrete culverts, bags of cement and steel bars.
The report of the Commission on Audit (COA) usually serves as the best proof of government spending. This time around, Virginia Palanca-Santiago, ignored the report submitted by COA regional director Inocencio Cabahug where it noted traces of implementation but declined to render a conclusive finding on whether the work conformed with standards “due to the lapse of time”. In other words, COA’s Cabahug did not disallow the disbursement.
In COA parlance, a notice of disallowance is issued when a government project is found to be irregular. The public official to whom the disallowance is addressed, must explain why the disbursement is regular. If the COA found the explanation meritorious, the project is deemed regular. Otherwise, the COA will issue an order to reimburse. Failure to reimburse would compel it to file a criminal and administrative complaint, and it’s at this stage that the Ombudsman comes in, after the COA seeks its office in running after erring public officials.
Our heroine, Virginia Palanca-Santiago made a short cut. She rigged her decision. She ignored the COA. Not contented in rigging her decision, she ensured that her victims were deprived of the opportunity to avail of legal remedies by furnishing them mere photo-copies of her decision that handicapped them from filing an appeal or petition certiorari because a photo-copy is unacceptable attachment to an appeal or petition.
Worse, she played it dirty by ensuring that her victims rot in jail before they could file a motion for reconsideration. Her victims received copy of Virginia Palanca-Santiago’s decision on January 5, 2009. Unknown to them, their tormentor already filed a criminal information with the Sandiganbayan on December 23, 2008.
December 23 noontime was the start of the long Yuletide vacation for government offices ending on January 4, 2009. Had the Sandiganbayan issued an arrest warrant that same day, Esmeralda et al could have spent their Yuletide vacation behind bars and can post bail only on the first office day of the next year, which was January 5, 2009.
Luckily, her victims got wind of the criminal information and promptly filed a motion which was granted to hold the issuance of warrants of arrest and to order the Virginia Palanca-Santiago to resolve their motion for reconsideration.
The Sandiganbayan ordered Virginia Palanca-Santiago to “complete” her investigation in April 2009. Almost two years to the month, she is still in blissful sleep.
Her co-conspirator in this criminal project, a municipal judge, already had her karma. Her husband suffered a stroke and is bedridden to date, after learning of her adulterous relationship with another judge. She had a mild stroke later. For the benefit of other judges, this adulterous judge and her lover hold sala outside W. Visayas.
I have written in past columns that Virginia Palanca-Santiago’s palm was greased for what she did as narrated above. This moral pygmy whose sense of right and wrong is as revolting as her looks, should be investigated for corruption and barred from slipping silently into retirement.