Criminal charges for plunder and graft, including administrative complaints, have been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) against re-elected Lipa City Mayor Eric B. Africa and seven other city personnel in connection with the P107.2 million in cash advances allegedly withdrawn before the last May 9 local and national elections.
The complaint-affidavit filed by Lipa City resident and taxpayer Levi Lopez was received by the OMB last June 29 and notarized by Joseph Marion P. Navarete, graft investigator of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon.
Africa and the other city employees were charged with violations of Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (malversation), Section 89 in relation to Section 128 of Presidential Decree No. 1445 (Government Auditing Code), Section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the 2017 Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.
Also, Africa and the other respondents were charged with plunder under Republic Act No. 7080, the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder).
The other respondents name in the complaint-affidavit were City Accountant Ma. Belen M. Villanueva, Chief of Staff Wilfredo S. Rivera, Rochelle L. Catindig and Melany O. Aguila of the City Community Affairs Office, and Executive Assistants Dexter M. Recio, Philip Maurice C. Ulep and Mary Ann D. Gutierrez.
It was not known immediately if the OMB has acted on the complaints. Manila Bulletin will publish the answer of Africa and the other respondents to the charges once they have filed their counter-affidavits if required by the OMB.
In his affidavit, Lopez claimed that the P107.2 million obtained from March 3 to 14, 2022 were disbursed for, among others, educational financial assistance fund, pension for senior citizens, extended beneficial assistance to transport sector, and allowance of barangay functionaries.
He claimed that the employee-respondents “are holding coterminous positions, and yet they have been designated as disbursing officers and actually received cash advances, in clear violation of Commission on Audit Circular No. 97-002 dated Feb. 10, 1997, on the granting, utilization, and liquidation of cash advances….”
He said the COA circular provides: “Only permanently appointed officials shall be designated as disbursing officers. Elected officials may be granted a cash advance only for their official traveling expenses.”
At the same time, Lopez said that “the cash advances intended for financial assistance are being handled by the Office of the City Mayor and not by the City Treasurer’s Office is a flagrant irregularity.”
“Under Section 470 (d) of the Local Government Code, it is the Treasurer who has the duty to ‘take custody of and exercise proper management of the funds of the local government unit concerned’ and ‘take charge of the disbursement of all local government funds and such other funds the custody of which may be entrusted to him by law or other competent authority,’” he alleged.
“Granting cash advances with a cumulative amount of more than a hundred million to the above-named personnel to whom the law did not grant the authority to handle the City’s funds is a clear violation of the Local Government Code and is not in keeping with sound fiscal management,” he also alleged.
Also, Lopez told the OMB that “the cash advances in question were made two or three weeks before March 25, 2022, the start of the campaign period for the 2022 local elections, in which Respondent Africa was running for re-election.”
“One does not need to be a genius to see that Respondent Africa is utilizing and taking advantage of public funds for his own political gain. These actions constitute a violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” he alleged.
At the same time, Lopez cited alleged irregularities in the handling and utilization of funds for the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).
He claimed that “the review of the documents by the COA (Commission on Audit) showed that payrolls for the SAP for a total of nine (9) individuals with a total amount of ₱58,500 (₱6,500 each) were not signed by the payees, thereby placing doubts on whether said financial assistance were received by the target beneficiaries and properly liquidated by the accountable officers.”
He also said that “in the same Annual Audit Report (AAR), the COA also reported that the City failed to submit the required documents supporting the implementation of the SAP, which constitutes non-compliance to the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) Circular, and places doubt on whether the prescribed procedures were properly executed.”
“Furthermore, the COA noted that the City failed to comply with the deadline set for distribution and liquidation of funds in violation of Item VI of DSWD Administrative Order No. 13, series of 2021, in relation to Item V of COA Circular no. 97-002 dated Feb. 10, 1997,” he added.
“The foregoing badges of irregularity and illegality warrant an investigation of the above-mentioned cash advances and the prosecution of the responsible officials, especially Respondent Africa under whose watch these transactions are being executed,” Lopez alleged.
“And as these transactions suggest a widespread and prevailing practice, other cash advances, especially those issued to personnel of the Office of the City Mayor, must also be investigated. Ultimately, it must be determined whether the financial assistance was received in full and properly acknowledged by the rightful beneficiaries,” he said.
He asked the OMB ‘to immediately put all the respondents under preventive suspension in order to prohibit them from influencing the preliminary investigation to protect the integrity of the evidentiary documents and the evidence of their culpability being manifestly strong and the penalty imposable warrants dismissal….”