House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Monday, February 12, said he will “definitely not” implement the Ombudsman’s order to dismiss Cebu 3rd District Representative and Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia.
Ombudsman Conchita Morales has earlier ordered Garcia’s dismissal from service for grave misconduct in connection with the controversial purchase of a Balili property in Tiga-an, Naga Cebu in 2008.
The Ombudsman provided the House speaker a copy of the order for “appropriate action.”
Alvarez, however, told reporters that he would not act on it as there is “no legal basis” for him to do so.
“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.
He further stressed that that it is “not within the power” of the Ombudsman to “discipline or remove” any member of the House of Representatives.
“So if I do that, I will be violating the Constitution since the Constitution provides that it is only us who have the power to discipline and remove a member of the House of Representatives,” Alvarez added.
In June 2008, Garcia, who was then the governor of Cebu City, purchased a 24.92-hectare property worth nearly P100 million for human settlement and seaport project. It was later discovered, however, that half of the property “were underwater and part of a mangrove area.”
In 2012, a public bidding was conducted “for the supply and delivery of backfilling materials and other incidentals of its submerged and mangrove portions.” The local government awarded the contract to Supreme ABF Construction.
But the Ombudsman, in a ruling last January 15, stated that then Governor Garcia was not authorized to enter into a contract with ABF Construction.
“While this Office finds merit on her assertion that the P50 million allotment for the airport/seaport and other economic enterprise site development program (a capital outlay expenditure that was carried over to the 2012 Annual Budget of the province), was a valid source of appropriation for the Balili project, such appropriation did not validly confer authority to respondent Garcia to enter into a contract with ABF Construction for the Balili project. She failed to point out the specific provision in the appropriation ordinance which supposedly authorized her to enter into the contract,” the Ombudsman said in its decision.
For Alvarez, the Ombudsman’s order came too late. He also questioned its timing.
“Why resolve this case only now, over 5 years after its filing? With the pending impeachment complaint against the Ombudsman in which Deputy Speaker Garcia would be actively involved in its dispatch, being ex officio member of the Justice Committee and a vigorous participant, Ombudsman Morales now seems to have the leverage to influence and secure the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against her,” he said.
Garcia earlier said she would leave the House leaders to decide on the implementation the Ombudsman order.
She also remarked that the the timing of the ruling against her was “highly suspicious,”
“Considering that I have been vigorously and actively involved in the dispatch of impeachment complaints such as the one against Chief Justice [Maria] Lourdes Sereno, it is no surprise that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who now faces an impeachment complaint against her, would want to have the impeachment complaint dismissed by strong arming key members of Congress such as myself. My dismissal from service at her hands makes her motivation far too obvious,” Garcia added.
Like Garcia, Malacañang also questioned the timing of the dismissal order against her.
“It is also unfortunate that the decision of the Ombudsman was released at a time when such actions could be given political color. While we leave the merits of the case to the Ombudsman, the release of the decision could have come at a more circumspect time,” Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque said.
While saying that Malacañang respects the decision of the Ombudsman, Roque expressed agreement that only Congress has the power to suspend or remove its members, adding that the Ombudsman “cannot arrogate this power of Congress.”