ILOILO CITY – The Office of the Ombudsman reversed the resolution of the Ombudsman – Visayas by dismissing the administrative charges against two municipal employees.
In a nine-page resolution received by the respondents October 4, the Ombudsman concludes:
“Wherefore…the memorandum dated 15 February 2007 be reconsidered and set aside. The motion for reconsideration dated 08 January 2009 is hereby granted. Accordingly, the administrative complaint against respondents Cynthia M. Cabañero and Pio E. Elumba is dismissed.”
To recall, a shadowy group People’s Graftwatch of Iloilo charged Cabañero, municipal treasurer of Igbaras, Iloilo, Elumba, private secretary to the mayor, and Igbaras mayor Jaime Esmeralda for “ghost” implementation of a road rehabilitation project involving P1 million.
Esmeralda, then mayor of the mountain town, 40 kilometers south of Iloilo City, implemented the project April 2004. The graft charges were filed against him and his two subordinates February the following year.
Esmeralda’s administrative liability was dropped after he got reelected in the May 2004 elections. On January 5, 2009, the first office day of the year, however, the three respondents received a memorandum finding probable cause to their criminal liability, and ordering Cabañero and Elumba guilty for grave misconduct and dishonesty, dismissing the two from service with accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of benefits.
The dismissal from service was served on Cabanero and Elumba August 2009 despite their timely motion for reconsideration.
With the reversal of the decision and the dismissal of the administrative charge, Cabañero may now reassume her position as municipal treasurer of Igbaras and receive her unpaid emoluments from the day she was fired from office until her reinstatement.
Elumba, being a co-terminus employee is entitled to receive his pay only from the day he was terminated to the last day in office of his appointing authority, then mayor, now vice-mayor Jaime Esmeralda.
The head of the Ombudsman – Visayas at the time who penned the verdict of dismissal from service was Virginia Palanca-Santiago, in acting capacity. She gave the task of investigating the Igbaras case to Investigator Roderick Blazo who was only four months in office.
Blazo and Palanca-Santiago inspected the subject roads, one linking Brgy. Mulangan to Brgty. Kinagdan, the other Brgy. Cale and Brgy. Indaluyon, November 8, 2004, eight months from implementation. Both in their barely three hours stay in Igbaras parroted the “ghost project” yarn of the Graftwatch. In support of their conclusion was a thick wad of affidavits prepared by the Graftwatch, lifted from a common computer template, where the affiants chorused they hadn’t seen any stockpile of sand and gravel, construction materials and pieces of heavy equipment along the two roads in the first quarter of 2004. The only differences in these affidavits are the personal circumstances of the affiants.
The order dated May 31, 2012 was penned by Julius A. Java, Special Prosecution Officer II. It also bore the signatures of Assistant Ombudsman Marilou B. Ancheta-Mejica who recommended its approval, and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who approved it.
Writes Java in the order:
… (T)he investigation failed to unveil with specificity any irregularity that may have attended the implementation of the project i.e.compliance or non-compliance with the bidding requirements under RA 9184. The mere fact that Engr. Anastacio Escobido denied participation in any stage of the project is insufficient to conclude that there was irregularity in the implementation thereof. Respondent-movants are one in saying that they are only responsible for the inspection and acceptance of the deliveries of supplies, filling materials and equipment and not with the implementation or acceptance of the entire projects. In effect,they were not the ones responsible or tasked with the implementation of the entire projects.
The order rejects the assailed memorandum’s allegation on substandard implementation. It instead finds the findings of the Commission on Audit more credible. It reads:
…(I) must be stressed that the (COA) in its Inspection Report, found no substantial evidence of irregularity in the preparation of the previously constructed roads and the road materials used (aggregate base course)….(T)he COA…stated that the actual volume of the aggregate base course delivered and spread out within the project limits cannot be determined or established as these were already spread out and to the considerable lapse of time.
The COA finding belies the “ghost project”. The order noted that, aside from the COA report, three more facts supported the respondents proof against the “ghost project” that their accusers, Assistant Ombudsman Palanca-Santiago and her investigator Blazo hurled against them.
“Municipal Engr. Anastacio Escobido signed the Inspection Report of the (COA) without any objection or comment which also strengthens respondents’ claim that the project really exists”, writes the Ombudsman.
Blazo and Palanca-Santiago wrote in their report that they saw “unused but delivered supplies and materials during the ocular inspection.” The Ombudsman, however, said “… (that) clearly bolsters the claim of the respondents that indeed supplies and materials were delivered.”
The order further notes that the sworn statements of the punong barangay in all affected barangays, and residents in them stated that “indeed, materials were delivered.”
Meanwhile, columnist Atty. Teopisto Melliza, counsel of Cabanero and Elumba said he found it “too incredible that the Office of the Ombudsman is stacked with the likes of Virginia Palanca-Santiago and Roderick Blazo.” He brands the former “moral pygmy” and the latter “quack investigator” in a 45-series opinion piece titled “Virginia Palanca-Santiago’s Exercise of Raw Power”.
The criminal aspect of the case is pending with the Sandiganbayan with Esmeralda, Cabañero,Elumba, Esmeralda and two private citizens as accused.
Blazo faulted Elumba and Cabanero for signing the acceptance and inspection report “when they are not qualified” being non engineers.
He repeated that statement in a hearing at the Sandiganbayan. When confronted with Section 118 of the Manual on the New Government Accounting System for Local Government Units, Blazo stuttered. “He just shot through his hat without knowing that Section 118 specifically authorizes the municipal treasurer, in the absence of a general services officer, to accept deliveries.
The same provision also authorizes an employee assigned by the mayor, like accused Elumba to do the inspection of the delivered goods if they conformed to specifications,” added Melliza.
The Ombudsman, turning down Palanca-Santiago’s argument, ruled that respondents Cabanero and Elumba were”duly authorized” to sign the acceptance and inspection report citing the same COA manual.