THE new mayor and vice mayor of Puerto Princesa City are facing graft and corruption charges at the Ombudsman, together with the recently dismissed mayor and eight councilors, for passing a resolution creating a new water district, which violated the Local Water Utilities Act, the Administrative Code and Local Government Units Code.
Incumbent Mayor Luis M. Marcaida III and Vice Mayor Maria Nancy Socrates—who were just sworn into office three weeks ago—were charged along with dismissed mayor Lucilo R. Bayron and members of the Sangguniang Panlunsod, documents filed by Ombudsman Prosecutor Margie G. Fernandez Alpatura last Feb. 13 showed.
Councilors Jimmy L. Carbonell, Matthew K. Mendoza, Modesto V. Rodriguez II, Roy Gregorio G. Ventura, Victor S. Oliveros, Henry A. Gadiano. Nesario G. Awat and Primo S. Lorenzo, ex-officio member, IP representative, were also charged before the anti-graft court.
Marcaida, Socrates, Bayron and the councilors were not available for comment as of press time.
The complaint was filed on Nov. 22, 2016 by Advocates for Excellent Government A.C.S.O., a civil society organization represented by Jose Ma. Mirasol, who accused the 11 city officials of alleged grave abuse of authority, grave misconduct, and other administrative violations under the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees and the LGU Code of 1991.
Docketed as OMB-L-A-17-0036, the complaint stemmed from the passage of Puerto Princesa City Sangguniang Panlungsod Resolution No. 218-2016 on Oct. 17, 2016, which requested then-city mayor Bayron to establish the “Puerto Princesa City Water System” for and in behalf of its residents, to be managed and operated by the City Government.
Bayron approved the council resolution, which Mirasol declared as a blatant violation of PD 198 or the Local Water Utilities Act, under which the Puerto Princesa City Water District was established in 1976.
Mirasol said the officials had no legal basis to pass a resolution creating a new water system for the city because the Puerto Princesa Water District has been in existence for 41 years already.
In his complaint, he cited Section 6 of PD 198, which declares that the Act “is the source of authorization and power to form and maintain a local water district. Once formed, a district is subject to the provisions of this Act, and not under the jurisdiction of any political subdivision.”
Mirasol said a copy of SP Resolution 218-2016 was submitted to the anti-graft court as “exhibit No. 1 or the ‘smoking gun’ document, to clearly expose the ignorance of the law, sheer abuse of power and authority by some elected city officials out to grab control of the city’s water supply under questionable and scandalous circumstances.”
He pointed out the Puerto Princesa Water district is being operated and managed as a government owned and controlled corporation in compliance with the provisions of PD 198.
Contrary to the “flawed and graft-laden city council resolution,” Mirasol said the Puerto Princesa water district, since its inception in 1976, “has been managed by a Board of Directors appointed by the city mayor, its employees are civil service eligible, and it is audited by the Commission on Audit and administered by the Local Water Utilities Administration, also a government owned and controlled corporation.”
To strengthen his complaint, Mirasol submitted to the Ombudsman a copy of memorandum circular issued on October 18, 2016 by Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno to all provincial governors, city and municipal mayors, DILG directors and other officials on the operational autonomy of local water districts.
Sueno said water districts, once formed, are subject to provisions of PD 198, as amended, and are not under the jurisdiction of any political subdivision.
“Water districts are autonomous agencies independent of local governments, which should be allowed to operate with least interference from the local officials but with maximum support and assistance from them,” Sueno said.
He cautioned local officials “to tread softly” in dealing with concerns of local water districts because there is nothing in the Local Government Code that indicates it has repealed the pertinent provisions of PD 198.