Malacañang on Tuesday sided with Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia as she battled a dismissal order from the Office of the Ombudsman, saying the graft buster could not order her removal from her legislative post.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who considers Garcia his “best friend forever,” also questioned the timing of the Office of the Ombudsman’s directive, saying it 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,” Roque said.
The Office of the Ombudsman announced on Monday a Jan. 15 decision barring Garcia from holding any public office after finding her guilty of grave misconduct, in a case that stemmed from an unauthorized, P24.47-million project to develop a mostly underwater property when she was the governor of Cebu province.
Garcia claimed that the order was intended to force her into helping Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales escape from her impeachment case at the House of Representatives.
A complaint has been filed against Morales in the House but the chamber has not held any hearings in connection with it.
Garcia, however, questioned the timing of the order, saying it seemed like the Ombudsman singled her out.
House won’t enforce order
“An act that was done when I was still governor several years ago, you’d wonder whether this was purposely done,” she said.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told reporters hours after the Ombudsman’s decision became known on Monday that he would “definitely not” enforce the graft buster’s order.
The House, he said, would not tackle the order in the plenary. “Why would we waste our time on [an order that has] no legal basis?” he said.
Alvarez said the Ombudsman should have ordered Garcia’s dismissal when she was still the governor of Cebu and under its jurisdiction.
Garcia now holds the seat of the third district of Cebu in the House of Representatives.
Roque, a former party-list representative, also said only the House could discipline Garcia.
“While we respect the findings of the Ombudsman based on the merits of the case, only Congress may suspend or remove its members based on the former’s antigraft and corruption rulings. She cannot arrogate this power of Congress [to herself],” he said.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said on Monday that Garcia’s case could end up like the case of Sen. Joel Villanueva, who was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman on Nov. 14, 2016, for alleged misuse of P10 million in pork barrel funds when he was a party-list representative, in a case launched when he was the head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
The Senate, deciding it had the sole power to discipline its members, did not enforce the Ombudsman’s order.
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