By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2013 Fil Am Extra Exchange)
CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – When I advised then San Juan, Metro Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada to ignore the order of Revolutionary President Cory Aquino in 1986 to vacate the San Juan municipal hall, I questioned the validity of the order because it was not addressed to anybody. I told Mayor Estrada the anonymous order was an insult to his person and his office.
If he really wanted to make a point, Mayor Estrada should call a television cameraman and tear the order to pieces, which he did. Estrada would leave the mayor’s office after a violent take-over by the Aquino forces. And only after presenting a detailed financial report – a surplus – which was unheard of at the time to the Aquino government officials so Estrada would not be accused of running away with the taxpayers’ money.
I was already in Chicago, Illinois, when the iconic defiance of Estrada of tearing the order that conjured an image of a Bonifacio tearing up the cedula (residence certificate) and would launch Estrada’s political fortune to the stratosphere.
Of course, I don’t want this to happen in Cebu. And I appeal to former President Estrada and his allies, including Vice President Binay and Senate President Enrile, to tell Cebu Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia to vacate the capitol while she appeals her case. What she needs are lawyers, not her grandstanding supporters, to win her case.
The case of Gov. Garcia, whose six months suspension by the late Sec. Jesse Robredo of the Interior and Local Government was sustained by President Noynoy Aquino’s Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., was a far cry from Estrada’s case.
In Estrada’s case, the order came out of the blue. But in Garcia’s case, there was a full-blown administrative hearing, where she was given a day in court. She knew a decision was forthcoming.
ROBREDO FOUND GARCIA GUILTY OF GRAVE ABUSE OF AUTHORITY
Robredo found Garcia guilty of grave abuse of authority among others for usurping the appointing power of the Vice Governor, for hiring 19 consultants without prior authorization from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), and “slashing the budget, while not illegal, is suggestive of harassment, oppression, and vindictiveness with respondent utilizing the powers of her office and affinity to the SP.”
A copy of the decision on Garcia’s case was emailed to me by Provincial Board Member Vladi Frivaldo of Sorsogon, whose Governor, Raul R. Lee, was denounced by Frivaldo in a privilege speech earlier before the SP for “usurping legislative authority of the Vice Governor by transferring the funds from SP to the Office of the Governor and reducing the budget of Vice Governor from PHP23.2-M in 2009 to PHP2.5-M in 2011 or 76% and the SP budget by 30%.”
Garcia’s trouble started when the late Vice Gov. Gregorio G. Sanchez, Jr. filed complaint against her before the office of Secretary Robredo on Nov. 8, 2010 for encroaching upon Sanchez’ legislative powers, grave misconduct and abuse of authority.
On July 26, 2012, a few months before his death, Secretary Robredo came up with a ruling and elevated the case to the Office of the President “for appropriate action.”
According to the decision of the Office of the President, Gov. Garcia gravely abused her authority by: (1) encroaching on the appointing authority of the complainant over employees of the Office of the Vice-Governor (Sanchez); (2) slashing the budget of the Office of the Vice Governor by 61%; (3) stopping the publication of the Legislative Gavel and non-payment of honoraria of the publication staff; (4) transferring the funding of the Legislative Research and Codification Project from the Office of the Vice-Governor to the Office of the Governor; (5) hiring consultants without prior authority from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) or Provincial Board; (6) withholding the overtime pay of the personnel of the Office of the Vice Governor; and (7) issuing a check worth PHP10-M without prior authority from the SP.
ELECTION CONDONATION OF PRIOR MISCONDUCT
Gov. Garcia denied all the allegations in the complaint with respect to acts that occurred before June 30, 2010, (when she was re-elected for the third time as governor), invoking the case of Aguinaldo v. Santos. The case held that a public official’s re-election to office operates as a condonation of the official’s misconduct committed during a prior term. I agree with this ruling only if the misconduct was made known to the voters on or before the election.
Garcia was later accused of charges she committed after June 30, 2010.
The ruling did not give credence to her claim that all acts complained of are within a governor’s powers of supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the provincial government.
Prior to the investigation of the complaint, Sanchez died. But DILG moved forward with the formal investigation, requiring parties to submit their respective memoranda.
In her memorandum, Gov. Garcia moved for the dismissal of the case due to the death of the complainant, “absence of a valid substitution of complainant” and lack of interest to proceed on the part of the complainant’s successor in office.
In his ruling, Robredo said “administrative case survives the death of the complainant and is not rendered moot by the dismissal of related civil cases,” adding, “unilateral acts of a private complainant will not bind the disciplining authority in its exercise of disciplinary power over erring public officials” and “complainant is only treated as witness.”
The ruling also found Garcia to have usurped the appointing power of the Vice Governor, who has a power to appoint “employees of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, as well as those of the Office of the Vice Governor, whose salaries, are paid out of the funds appropriated for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.”
After the complainant Sanchez died, Garcia restored the salaries and wages of contractual employees of the Vice Governor, which evoked “malice and bad faith,” “suggestive of an arbitrary exercise of authority,” according to the ruling.
But when Sanchez’s successor, Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, “transferred to another political party,” Garcia suddenly reduced “the budget of the Vice Governor and the SP for 2011,” which indicated “malice and bad faith,” the ruling added.
Garcia also gravely abused her authority when she hired 19 consultants without “prior, express and separate authorization from the SP.” The ruling said, “continued practice does not justify an illegal act and no vested right can be acquired by an administrative official from an erroneous construction of the law.”
I just hope when a similar complaint is filed against Gov. Raul Lee and other governors, the Office of the President would swiftly investigate and carry out its suspension order as it did against Governor Garcia. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
Journal Group Link International
P. O. Box 30110
Chicago IL 60630