House Speaker: I will not implement Ombudsman's order to dismiss Garcia

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 12) — House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Monday said he will not implement the Ombudsman's order to dismiss House Deputy Speaker and Cebu 3rd district Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia over grave misconduct charges.

"My appropriate action is not to implement the order. Why? Because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows me to do that. In fact, it is not within the power of the Ombudsman to discipline much more to remove a member of the House of Representatives," he said.

Alvarez said he will be violating the Constitution if he implements the order, adding the decision should have been released when Garcia was still a governor.

Garcia, as then Cebu governor, allegedly entered into unauthorized contracts with Supreme ABF Construction in 2012. The contractor supposedly received over P24 million after winning a public bidding for supply and delivery of materials in the almost P99-million Balili property in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the contracts were not approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or provincial board.

"She failed to point out the specific provision in the appropriation ordinance which supposedly authorized her to enter into the contract," the decision, dated January 15, 2018, read.

The order states Garcia is perpetually disqualified from holding public office, her eligibility to hold such office cancelled, and her retirement benefits forfeited.

House Majority Leader Rudy Farinas said the plenary will have to vote on whether this will be carried out.

The Ombudsman added Garcia violated the Administrative Code and the Government Auditing Code, which ban entering into a contract unless a certification of appropriation and fund availability for the expenditure is issued.

Garcia said she will "not touch on the merits of the case" and leave it up to Alvarez.

She also raised suspicion at the order, saying the Ombudsman was "singling [her] out."

"The timing is rather suspect... You wonder whether this was purposely done, precisely because I am very active in this impeachment hearing against Chief Justice [Maria Lourdes] Sereno," said Garcia.

She added she will remain active in the hearings.

Garcia also said the Aguinaldo doctrine should have been applied in her case, as she was still a governor at the time when she allegedly committed the offenses.

The Aguinaldo doctrine, which was established in a 1992 case before the Supreme Court, states that "offenses committed, or acts done, during a previous term are generally held not to furnish cause for removal." The rule is a condonation of the official's misconduct to the extent of doing away with the right to remove him or her from office.

Sereno and Morales were appointees of former President Benigno Aquino III. Both have raised concern and criticism against the Duterte administration.

Garcia's chief of staff told CNN Philippines they have yet to receive a copy of the dismissal order.

For his part, Fariñas, who also chairs the House Committee on Rules, also cited the case of Senator Joel Villanueva, who was ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman over an offense he allegedly committed when he headed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. The Senate did not carry this out.

He said the House pushed for a bill amending the anti-graft law to exempt incumbent officers from preventive suspension over an offense linked to a previous and different office.

The Ilocos Norte lawmaker said the measure will allow preventive suspension only on issues related to a current position.

The House approved the bill on the third and final reading in November 2017. The Senate has yet to approve a counterpart measure.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman also found Provincial Accountant Emmanuel Guial guilty of simple neglect of duty for certifying disbursement vouchers as complete without Sangguniang Panlalawigan authorization

Bids and Awards Committee chairperson Marivic Garces; vice chairperson Bernard Calderon; members Manuel Purog, Emme Gingoyon, Ma. Junelene Arenas, Cristina Giango, Rosalinda Jao; and acting provincial treasurer Roy Salubre are also facing administrative charges.