Four incumbent municipal officials in Caramoran, as well as a former mayor, a provincial official and a Virac councilor, are set to file their counter-affidavits this week in connection with an allegedly anomalous, P2.5-million land purchase in 2019.
According to documents furnished the Tribune, former Mayor Agnes Popa, incumbent Mayor Glenda Aguilar, municipal budget officer Dominga Escarilla, municipal treasurer Liberto Yusores, Provincial Assessor Milagros Sarmiento, former Caramoran Councilor Nelson Rubio and Virac Councilor Jose Romeo Francisco were ordered last week by the Office of the Ombudsman to submit their respective counter-affidavits in the twin criminal and administrative cases for grave abuse of authority, violation of Articles 216 and 220 of the Revised Penal Code, and violation of RA 3019.
The complaints were filed by top officers of the Caramoran Metro Manila Reformists Association (CAMMRA): Chairman Ronald Talion, President Jonathan Yutan, and Vice President Ruby Buenaventura. Incidentally, Talion, who was inducted as president of the Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers (PSME) Catanduanes Chapter in October last year, died recently.
The complainants claimed that on March 26, 2018, an obligation request was issued by the LGU for the purchase of two parcels of land for P2.5 million. A review of the voucher, however, indicates the transaction occurred in March 2019.
On the following day, March 27, a disbursement voucher was prepared for payment of the property at the same time that Mayor Popa issued a travel order to treasurer Yusores to transact official business in Virac and San Andres on March 28, a source told the Tribune.
A similar travel order was issued to budget officer Escarilla covering her attendance to a meeting of local budget officers in Pandan also on March 28, with one Leny Taniajura signing the obligation request on her behalf.
Based on the documents, the questioned voucher passed by the hand of the municipal accountant, Rafael Turbolencia, on said day but he refused to sign it.
In a letter to Mayor Popa, the accountant noted that the voucher lacked some of the requirements specified by COA Circular No. 2012-01 on the purchase of real estate by the government.
“Notwithstanding the above, and in deference to your oral order to act on the said Voucher based on the payment agreement and other documents attached, undersigned will comply,” wrote Turbolencia, who would die from a lingering ailment five months later.
In the absence of treasurer Yusores, Local Revenue Collection Officer II Pamfilo de Quiroz Jr. signed the voucher but adopted the same objection of the accountant.
De Quiroz also sent a letter to Mayor Popa, manifesting his objection on the same concerns but he received a memorandum order from the latter directing him to act immediately on the voucher by issuing the check.
The mayor’s order noted that she had already signed the voucher as “approved for payment” and asked what the treasurer’s office’s problem was with the issuance of the necessary check.
With de Quiroz’s signature completing the voucher, Check No. 826831 was issued in Francisco’s name on March 28, 2019, a day before the start of the campaign period for local candidates in the 2019 elections.
The CAMMRA complainants said that payment for the land was based solely on the report and resolution submitted by the Provincial Appraisal Committee headed by Sarmiento, the deed of absolute sale, payment agreement, Original Certificate of Title, tax declaration and a resolution of the municipal council.
It also pointed out that the SB resolution was sponsored by then Councilor Rubio, who is related to the landowner, Jose Romeo Rubio Francisco.
Talion and company likewise claimed that the realignment of funds for the land purchase was without a certification from the Local Finance Committee, a resolution from the Municipal Development Council and a Sangguniang Bayan resolution.
The respondents, they averred, failed to show that the project is included in the LGU’s Annual Investment Plan and its Annual Budget.
CAMMRA also pointed out that four months earlier, the property was converted from agricultural to industrial use through Municipal Resolution No. 132-2018 dated Dec. 17, 2018 and sponsored by Councilor Rubio without going through the procedures of conversion.
Nearly two months later, on Feb. 4, 2019, the Sangguniang Bayan chaired by Vice Mayor Glenda Aguilar passed Resolution No. 008-2019 authorizing Mayor Popa to purchase the two lots in the amount of P3 million for use in “some developmental projects” of the LGU.
The appraisal report signed by provincial assessor Sarmiento and based on an ocular inspection conducted by her representatives on Feb. 7, 2019, indicated that the two lots, with an aggregate area of 25,752 square meters, had a market value of P115,260.00 at the time.
In the same report, Sarmiento concluded that as of Feb. 11, 2019, the property’s unit fair market value was P120 per square meter, or a total fair market value of P3.09 million.
On March 20, 2019, the Provincial Appraisal Committee composed of Sarmiento, Provincial Engineer Felix Vargas, Provincial Treasurer Myrna Gonzales and secretariat Maribel Pajarillo adopted the appraisal report.
The following day, March 21, land owner Jose Romeo Francisco executed a Deed of Absolute Sale with Caramoran LGU represented by Mayor Popa, over the two parcels of land for a purchase price of P3 million.
On the same day, the two parties inked a Payment Agreement providing that P2.5 million will be paid upon signing of the agreement, with the balance of P500,000.00 to be paid upon submission of the Transfer Certificate of Title by the seller.
Interestingly, among the evidence submitted by the complainants was a Program of Work on the purchase of the two lots prepared by the office of Municipal Planning & Development Coordinator Roberto Vegim and approved by Mayor Popa.
The POW was dated April 3, 2019, six days after the voucher was approved for payment.
In their complaint, the CAMMRA complainants headed by its chairman, Ronald Talion, said it was clear from the circumstances that the respondents acted in conspiracy with each other to commit the criminal act while acting in their official capacity as public officers.
The complaint did not state when the landowner received the check for P2.5 million and the balance of P500,000.00.