■ PACHICO SEARES

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The House Speaker and Se­nate Pres­i­dent usu­ally sit on an om­buds­man or­der to re­move or dis­ci­pline a leg­is­la­tor un­til his/her term ex­pires, Seares ob­serves. It could be from a sense of pride or in­de­pen­dence that Congress wants to dis­ci­pline its own and pre­fer not to be told by any­one, in­clud­ing the om­buds­man. With that in mind, Rep. Gwen­dolyn Gar­cia faces no dan­ger of evic­tion. Speaker Pan­ta­leon Al­varez says the om­buds­man has no right or busi­ness to dis­ci­pline any mem­ber of Congress. How­ever, says Seares, the om­buds­man rul­ing re­mains un­less it will be struck down by an ap­pel­late court.

Rep. Gwen Gar­cia will keep her seat in the House un­til her term ends in 2019. That’s as­sured by Speaker Pan­ta­leon Al­varez who be­lieves the om­buds­man has no right or busi­ness to dis­ci­pline any mem­ber of Congress. The speaker and the Se­nate pres­i­dent usu­ally sit on an om­buds­man or­der to re­move or dis­ci­pline a leg­is­la­tor un­til his term ex­pires.

Must be from sense of pride and in­de­pen­dence: Congress dis­ci­plines its own and doesn’t want to be or­dered, even by the om­buds­man.

No threat on seat

With that mind­set of con­gres­sional lead­ers, Gwen is not threat­ened with be­ing evicted. Yet she must go to court to as­sail by cer­tio­rari the om­buds­man or­der that per­pet­u­ally dis­qual­i­fies her from pub­lic of­fice.

The om­buds­man rul­ing won’t go away un­til it is re­strained or struck down by ap­pel­late court. Cebu City north Rep. Be­bot Abel­lanosa, slapped with a sim­i­lar dis­missal or­der in 2014, re­pelled the charge of con­flict of in­ter­est and prof­it­ing from a P135 mil­lion plus schol­ar­ship deal.

Core of dis­pute

The om­buds­man’s or­der against Gwen in­structs lo­cal govern­ment ex­ec­u­tives be­cause it may fur­ther en­lighten them on when they can en­ter into a con­tract with­out prior au­thor­ity of the leg­is­la­ture.

Ten years ago, Cebu politi­cians were par­ties in the Supreme Court case of Quisumb­ing vs. Gar­cia (GR#175529, Dec. 8, 2008). The same is­sue is tack­led in the Jan. 15, 2018 rul­ing that or­ders Gwen’s dis­missal.

Two ‘of­fenses’

The om­buds­man rul­ing that or­dered Gwen’s ouster said:

[1] Gwen in April 2012 en­tered into a con­tract with Supreme ABF Con­struc­tion to buy back-fill­ing ma­te­ri­als for the ar­eas of Capi­tol-bought Balili prop­erty in Naga that were un­der­wa­ter or part of the man­grove “with­out the au­thor­ity” of the Provin­cial Board;

[2] She con­tracted the P24.46 mil­lion pur­chase with no o cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that funds were avail­able.

No PB ap­proval

Set aside for now the fail­ure to se­cure fund-avail­abil­ity pa­pers (for which the provin­cial ac­coun­tant may also be blamed: he cer­ti­fied that all the re­quire­ments were met when they weren’t).

The prin­ci­pal core of dis­pute is the ab­sence of PB au­thor­ity, which was also a ma­jor is­sue in the 2008 Quisumb­ing case.

The main rule

Stripped of le­gal jar­gon, the SC rule is plain and un­com­pli­cated: Lo­cal Govern­ment Code gen­er­ally re­quires the leg­is­la­ture’s au­thor­ity be­fore the lo­cal govern­ment ex­ec­u­tive can en­ter into a con­tract. Ex­cept in cases pro­vided by the code it­self. And ex­cept where the au­thor­ity is al­ready given in the ap­pro­pri­a­tion or­di­nance.

The con­tract for back-fill ma­te­ri­als was based on, and the money paid was sourced to, a P50 mil­lion PB ap­pro­pri­a­tion “for a sea­port/air­port and other eco­nomic en­ter­prise” at the Balili prop­erty. Gwen con­tended the or­di­nance gave her the au­thor­ity to con­tract with ABF Con­struc­tion.

Enough de­tails

The SC said in the 2008 Quisumb­ing case that if the ap­pro­pri­a­tion or­di­nance al­ready gives enough de­tails, the ex­ec­u­tive doesn’t need fur­ther au­tho­riza­tion.

When, how­ever, the or­di­nance “de­scribes the project in generic terms” and the work con­tracted has to be spec­i­fied, the leg­is­la­ture’s ap­proval is re­quired.

On the con­tract for back-fill ma­te­ri­als, the or­di­nance said the P50 mil­lion was for “air­port/sea­port and other eco­nomic en­ter­prise” at the Balili prop­erty.” Not spe­cific enough?

The om­buds­man saw the need for PB ap­proval, aside from its ear­lier or­di­nance. The ap­pel­late court that will re­view Gwen’s case may see it dif­fer­ently.

It’s about money but its more about work pro­ce­dure and ex­er­cise of power than al­leged mis­spending of money.

PACHICO A. SEARES paseares@gmail.com Two cases in­volv­ing Cebu’s gov­er­nor and provin­cial board of­fer a “tu­to­rial” on when the lo­cal chief ex­ec­u­tive can en­ter into a con­tract with­out the au­thor­ity of the lo­cal leg­is­la­ture

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