■ Jane B. Cadalig
A city councilor has come to the defense of Mayor Benjamin Magalong who was sued for graft in relation to the purchase of lots at Topinao, Tuba, Benguet.
Councilor Jose Molintas, in a privilege speech on Jan. 15, defended Magalong’s acts about the purchase of the Topinao lots under his administration’s land-banking program. The property is intended for a housing project.
Molintas said it is not true that Magalong was not authorized to sign the deed of sale for the acquisition of the property, which is worth more than P95 million on behalf of the city government.
Councilor Mylen Yaranon earlier sued Magalong for violation of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti- Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and sought the mayor’s suspension.
Aside from the lack of authority, Magalong was accused of failing to exercise diligence in determining the status of the property, which is reportedly involved in a pending case, not fit for housing as it is an agricultural land, and lacked feasibility and seismic hazard studies.
“It is not true that the mayor was not authorized by the city council to purchase the Topinao lots because there is a resolution and ordinance that were approved (to that effect),” Molintas said.
He cited a Supreme Court decision that explained section of the Local Government Code which provides that prior authorization for the local chief executive to enter into a contract on behalf of the local government unit may be in the form of an appropriation ordinance passed for the year, which specifically covers the project and the cost of the contract to be entered into by the LGU.
“This is why we, in the committee on laws, recommended that we consider the letters of the mayor requesting for authorization as a mere formality because he was already authorized twice in the form of a resolution and an ordinance,” Molintas said.
He cited Resolution 221 s. 2020, which approved the supplemental Annual Investment Plan 2020 of the City of Baguio which the mayor requested to cover the funding requirements of the priority projects identified in the AIP, which included a project clearly identified as lot purchase (multipurpose and land-banking) located at Topinao amounting to P120M.
Molintas also cited Ordinance 42 s. 2020 that reverted P704,190,493 to the general fund and reappropriated the same for the funding of various priority projects under the AIP for 2020.
He added there was a notice of suspension from the Commission on Audit about the purchase of lots at Topinao amounting to P95M, but the same was lifted upon the submission of documents that were evaluated and examined by the audit team.
“Had the complainant visited the COA, which was a necessary and prudent step to do, she would have been furnished this notice of suspension, which was also lifted,” he said.
Molintas said his privilege speech is based on the media reports, and not from the complaint filed by Yaranon before the Ombudsman as he does not have a copy of the same.
He said the publication of the accusation is not only unfair to the mayor, but also the other officials, including the council.
“Charging the mayor alone ignores the fact that before releasing the funds, the City Treasurer, Accountant, and Budget Officer must be satisfied that the supporting documents are in order. If there is any anomaly, then they will be held responsible together with the mayor, but there is no such anomaly found by the COA regarding the transaction,” he said.
“The mayor and other officials were definitely maligned by the publication of the complaints that did not correctly indicate important facts, did not follow the principle of primary jurisdiction by first calling the COA, and coming up with erroneous conclusions of law.”
Asked by Yaranon if Molintas was lawyering for Magalong, the latter said he was lawyering for himself who is unduly being dragged in the controversy being a member of the city council, even if he is not a councilor when the body approved the appropriation ordinance.
“The mayor was unduly reported to have abused his authority because the council allegedly did not grant him authority to sign the deed of sale. Here, the council was somehow dragged into the controversy,” he said.