Alvarez says he won’t enforce Ombud’s order to dismiss Garcia

HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Monday that he will not implement the Office of the Ombudsman’s order to dismiss Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia for grave misconduct.

“My appropriate action is not to implement the order. Why? Because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows me to do that,” Alvarez said.

Garcia, who has represented Cebu’s third congressional district since July 2013, was quick to link the dismissal order to her participation in the impeachment process against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

“The timing is rather suspect. It does seem as though the Ombudsman has singled me out on an act that was done while I was still governor several years ago and you rather wonder whether this was purposely done precisely because as you saw I am very active in this committee hearing against Chief Justice Sereno,” she said.

The Office of the Ombudsman decided last month to order Garcia’s dismissal. The transaction at the center of the controversy took place in 2008, when the Province purchased nearly 25 hectares in the City of Naga.

Based on the ombudsman’s announcement, however, the transaction that led to the decision to dismiss was the one that took place in April 2012, when the Province held a bidding in search of a supplier of back-filling materials. Garcia was not authorized to enter into a contract with Supreme ABF Construction, the ombudsman said in its decision dated Jan. 15, 2018. The fact that a P50-million allocation for a site development program had been carried over to the Province’s budget for 2012 wasn’t enough to authorize the contract itself.

Garcia was serving her second term at the time of the lot purchase. In July 2012, the Ombudsman also charged Garcia before the Sandiganbayan with two counts of graft and technical malversation in relation to the purchase of the Balili property. The property, acquired for P98.926 million, was intended for the Capitol’s housing and seaport projects. An investigation, however, showed that 19.67 hectares of the property were underwater.

Garcia said she will continue to participate in the impeachment hearing and declined to comment when asked if she will seek the reversal of the ombudsman’s decision.

Alvarez, however, said he will not enforce it.

“In fact, it is not within the power of the Ombudsman to discipline, much more to remove, any member of the House of Representatives, so pag ginawa ko yan (if I do it), I will be violating the Constitution, since may nakalagay sa Constitution na kami lang yung may kapangyarihan to discipline or remove a member of the House of Representatives,” he added. (The Constitution says only the House has the power to discipline or remove a member of the House of Representatives.) Alvarez said he sees no legal basis to implement the order.

“Kanina ko pa binabasa, wala akong makitang provision na nagsasabi na pwedeng gawin yun (I could not find a provision in the Constitution that says the Ombudsman can suspend a member of the House),” he said.

The dismissal order will no longer be taken up at the plenary session, said Alvarez. (Keith Calayag of SunStar Philippines, with GMD of SunStar Cebu)