Friday, July 18, 2008

Ombudsman should probe Valencia

The Chronicle has run an un-intended series of articles about what is going on in the town of Valencia.
Were it not for Mayor Rodolfo V. Gonzalez Jr.’s bizarre press conference weeks ago (I learned the Chronicle was not invited), the interesting things going on in Valencia would not have seen print.
Everybody knows a Commission on Audit (COA) report is routine.
But it moved the newspaper to scrutinize it instead, purely and solely because of Mayor Gonzalez’ previous actions.
I myself was surprised at the mayor’s dis-proportionate reaction to a routine, surface COA publication, that I was prompted to ask: What is in this COA report anyway, that drove the mayor to evoke a moment of madness?
So I asked the news-desk for a full copy of the COA report.
The significant matter I read in the COA report is the inter-twining, interlocking, of personalities, which to my mind, would place its officials in a conflict of interest.
I think Mayor Rodolfo V. Gonzalez Jr., owes it to the public to explain this conflict of interest that has besieged himself and his administration.
This is something a little serious because it has criminal implications.
First, it is the mayor’s own brother, also a public official who is entangled in a conflict of interest position.
His brother is a municipal councilor, and at the same time an officer of a cooperative that has received millions of pesos of loans from the municipal government (peoples’ money).
I think there is an inherent conflict.
Its like playing for the Boston Celtics in the morning, and then playing for the LA Lakers in the evening.
It just isn’t right.
It creates a dizzying dis-comfort like a rumbling stomach.
Immediately, Mayor Gonzalez also gets entangled with the anti-graft law, Republic Act No. 3019, particular Section 3(d):
“Having any member of his family accept employment in a private enterprise which has pending official business with him” during its pendency
What needs to be clarified is: Why did Mayor Gonzalez allow his own brother-councilor to be a treasurer of a cooperative (Valencia Integrated Growers Multi-purpose Cooperative) that has pending official business with the municipality, and that is procuring millions of pesos of loans?
Second, Mayor Gonzalez may get entangled with Section 3 (j) of the anti-graft law which penalizes a public official who:
Knowingly approves or grants…privilege or benefit in favor of any person not qualified for or not legally entitled to such…. privilege or advantage…”
Mayor Gonzalez needs to explain why he allowed the release of millions of pesos of loans to this cooperative when the cooperative is “automatically disqualified” (per COA circular) by virtue of his own brother being an officer of such recipient-cooperative.
Besides, the cooperative according to COA, has deficiencies, which do not even entitle or qualify it to be a recipient.
For one, according to COA, the cooperative is financially unstable. The coop’s assets are insufficient to pay off its loans. The coop has no cash backing to pay annual amortizations and interest.
This brings Mayor Gonzalez to face-to-face with Section 3(e) of the anti-graft law which penalizes any public official who:
“Causes any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or gives any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence”
The finding by the COA of a cooperative that is financially malnourished, and yet being the beneficiary of millions of pesos of loans, leads to a conclusion that the cooperative has received “unwarranted benefits” (undeserved) from the municipality.
I learned that the cooperative enjoys a four-year grace period, meaning, the cooperative is given a vacation from loan payments for four years.
I have also noticed that of the four cooperatives listed as recipients of financial assistance from the municipality in the COA report, it is the Valencia Integrated Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative that has suspiciously received a gargantuan loan of P3-million.
The other cooperatives only received P500,000 maximum.
So, in terms of distribution of financial assistance, the Valencia Integrated Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative enjoyed far financial advantage, despite its being disqualified and financially unstable.
“Co-incidentally”, this is the same cooperative where the mayor’s brother occupied the position of treasurer.
Can the mayor explain this?
There is, we think, sufficient basis to refer this matter to the office of the ombudsman for administrative and criminal investigation.
In this way, there is a proper venue where the good mayor can explain these matters that are raising more questions than answers.
The ombudsman is the right venue because this is the mechanism adopted by our Constitution to promote, maintain and ensure public accountability
At the same time, Mayor Gonzalez can vindicate himself once he has sufficiently explained to the people why there is, or isn’t any conflict of interest in running the affairs of government.

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