Ombudsman junks graft cases vs Iloilo, Surigao Norte govs, 5 others

The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday dismissed for lack of merit the graft cases against seven government officials, including the governors of Iloilo and Surigao del Norte.

In two separate resolutions, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez absolved five Iloilo officials headed by Governor Niel Tupas, provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada, executive assistant II Levy Buenavista, budget officer Elena Lim, and human resources development officer Alma Ravena; as well as former and incumbent Surigao del Norte governors Lyndon Barbers and Robert "Ace" Barbers, respectively.

The case against the Iloilo officials stemmed from a complaint filed by the People's Graftwatch of Iloilo Inc in December 2007, charging them with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as well for allegedly committing "Prolonging Performance of Duties and Powers, Usurpation of Authority, and Malversation of Public Funds."

People's Graftwatch questioned why Mejorada, who was appointed as provincial director during Tupas's second term, stayed in his position even after the governor's second term in office has already expired.

The complainants even claimed that Mejorada continued to receive salaries and benefits after Tupas's second term ended. Tupas, through Buenavista, allegedly approved the payroll of Mejorada.

Mejorada was also charged with falsification, along with Lim and Ravena, who allegedly connived so that Mejorada could still have his title as a provincial administrator.

However, in her 15-page resolution, Gutierrez said that Mejorada is "lawfully" holding his position as provincial administrator even if he stayed on after Tupas's second term expired.

Gutierrez cited a Department of Interior and Local Government opinion, stating that "coterminous employees are allowed to stay in office in hold-over capacity despite the expiration of the term of office of the appointing authority for as long as no new appointment… by the present authority is made or the former are advised not to report for work anymore."

The same DILG opinion also stated that a municipal order in a hold-departure capacity is entitled to have all compensation and benefits during the hold-over period.

As for the graft case against the Barbers, Gutierrez, in a 14-page resolution, ruled against complainant Elmer Hipolito, human resources management officer II of the Surigao del Norte government's Personnel Division.

Hipolito questioned the order of the former Surigao del Norte governor, Lyndon, reassigning and directing the latter to report for work at the Pilar District Hospital. The order was only served last July 2007 when Robert Lyndon's term had already ended and Robert Ace has already assumed the gubernatorial post.

The complainant refused to heed the order and wrote a letter to the incumbent governor and to the Civil Service Commission, asking them to reconsider the directive.

In his letter, Hipolito argued that the Officer Order No. 36 was "highly arbitrary, capricious, and whimsical in the clear absence of exigency [since] there not even an iota of specific function or task that the complainant would perform at the district hospital."

The Ombudsman disagreed to Hipolito's explanation and said that "there is no sufficient evidence to engender a well-founded belief that the respondents are probably guilty" of the crime charged.

Gutierrez said the facts of the graft case did not demonstrate partiality, bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence. "The act of Gov. Robert Ace… is allowed."

The Ombudsman said that while government employees may appeal a transfer order, they are still required to follow a reassignment order unless the CSC grants their appeal. (GMANews.TV)

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