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Gov, 7 others cleared over Balili issue
By: Eleanor Valeros, Mylen Manto | Published Wednesday, December 2, 2020
The Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division released a resolution dismissing the graft case filed against Gov. Gwen Garcia and seven others on the controversial purchase of the Balili property. (Junjie Mendoza)

Justice has been served. 

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia is just as vindicated as her family at the Sandiganbayan Special 5th Division’s resolution to dismiss the graft case filed against her and seven others on the controversial P98.9 million purchase of the Balili property in the City of Naga, Cebu Province.

While her overwhelming victory in the May 2019 polls, for a historic fourth term, already vindicated the governor, based on a Supreme Court ruling known as the “condonation doctrine,” Garcia said that she has hoped for the decision to be put on paper finally as her senseless suffering has affected not only her reputation but more so of her family.

“I feel vindicated of course, but I am just as happy for my family because now they, too, are vindicated. As I’ve said kon ang imong reputasyon gub-on, dili lang ang imong reputasyon ang maguba, hasta sad sa imong pamilya,” Garcia expressed in a press conference today, December 2. 

“I’m also happy for the seven others that have been cleared. Si Attorney (Roy) Salubre, when I informed him, I could see the tears in his eyes,” she said.

Salubre is the chief of the Provincial Treasurer’s Office.

“When the case was filed, he was at the lowest point in his life, financially ha? Nya gikaso-kasohan pa gyud. Kinahanglan moatubang pa mi, molarga pa ngadtos Manila kada hearing. Grabe ang kahasol. Pero ako man gyud ang target. Nanga-among sila. And I feel that once again, it has been proven that the truth will set us free. Justice has been served,” Garcia stated.

Her daughter, Liloan Mayor Christina Frasco, who read out salient points of the 81-page Sandiganbayan resolution, said that “well it simply reaffirms what we know all along. That our mother, Gov Gwen, did nothing more or less than to act in the best interest of the Cebuanos, and we have always believed in her intention.” 

Legal basis

The anti-graft court, in its 81-page resolution, granted the demurer to evidence filed by the Garcia’s camp after the prosecution failed to prove its case. 

Based on the resolution, Frasco explained that the court clearly established that despite the prosecution’s claim, there was no conspiracy to defraud the government or to cause injury upon the government. 

Frasco highlighted the Sandiganbayan’s resolution which read “without definitive proof that there was a community of conscious and criminal design on the part of the accused to purchase the Balili properties despite the actual or physical condition thereof, the court finds discomfort in concluding that the accused were in cahoots to cause undue injury and prejudice to the provincial government of Cebu.”

“The individual acts of the accused will necessary in consummating the purchase of the Balili properties are not indicative of intentional participation and common design or purpose,” the resolution continued.

Frasco emphasized that the subject property was covered by a Torrens Title which was neither cancelled nor questioned before the court. 

The signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) leading to the purchase of the Balili properties was in accordance with law as Garcia was authorized by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan through its resolution which was recognized by the Sandiganbayan, she explained.  

Relieved of the long-awaited decision, Frasco thanked the Cebuanos who continued to support the governor and their family despite the baseless attacks and accusations.

“It took eight years for this court decision to be put on paper. But we’ve been behind her all this time. Ug mapasalamaton sad gyud kaayo ko sa tanang Sugbuanon nga bisan pa man sa pagbiaybiay, atake, buhat-buhat og mga akusasyon nga walay basehan, naa ra gyud gihapon sila, nagsuporta ni Gov Gwen, nagsuporta sa among pamilya. Ug mao sad gyud ni nakahatag namo og igong kusog nga mopadayon,” she added.

“I also cannot help but think of our family who would have been so happy to learn of this decision as well, that includes Lola Inday (Judge Esperanza Fiel Garcia), former Mayor Tito Nelson Garcia (of Dumanjug), and Mayor Marlon Garcia (of Barili). I hope that up above nahibawo sila nga, once and for all, na-vindicated si Governor Gwen and that Lolo Pabling (former Governor and Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia) has lived to see that justice has been served finally after all these years,” Frasco elucidated.

Investment

Garcia reiterated that the Balili property is actually an investment of the Cebu Provincial Government.

She pointed out that the charges against her have not dissuaded her from looking at the development of the said property.

“After twelve years, the market value is pegged at P7,500 per square meter. The property was bought at P400 per square meter in 2008. Tweny-four hectares ni but the previous administration donated a portion to the families affected by the (2018) Naga landslide. Ang nahibilin nato 22.5 hectares - titled, alienable and disposable – now valued at P1.6 billion,” she explained.

“I just have to make this clear nga pagsugod ani wala man gyud ko mag-interes. Pero pagsugod sa Naga in positioning itself as an industrial city kay nagsugod na sad ang Kepco (Korea Electric Power Corporation), nangita og kalabayan sa ilang coal ash, and they were going to pay the Province one dollar per metric ton of coal ash, so diha na ko ni-interes aning yuta-a kay kabalo ko nga fishpond we would be needing backfilling,” Garcia narrated. 

“Asa pa man ta mangita niini nga transaction kon diin backfilled na, bayaran pa ta? In fact, because of that Kepco was willing to put as an advance one million dollars and put upfront 500,000 dollars deposited with the Provincial Government. But environmental groups filed a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO), and it was granted. Maong wala ta makapadayon,” she further explained.

“Yet because of that investment I was persecuted and my family suffered immensely, immeasurably, for eight long years, purely because of political motivation,” the governor underscored.

When asked of her message to her detractors, she pointed out, “naa’y mga detractors, una, wa’y nasabtan pero igo lang moapil og yawyaw labi na nang naa sa social media nga tulpok diretso wa gani kasabot unsa gyud ning kasoha. Naay mga detractors nga lumalaban sa akong political opponents. Bisa’g unsaon ni nimo sila, hala gyud magsige og yawyaw. And my political opponents who were obviously behind this case.”

Garcia said that since the decision came out while on countdown to Christmas, this should serve as the best time to contemplate over certain actions.

“Well, you know one of them in the recent elections maskin gani wala pa ni migawas nga decision, the Cebuanos themselves vindicated me kay midaug man ko – overwhelmingly – niining tawhana or bayhana. Ang ako sigurong message nila nga ting-angat ang Pasko, niining desisyona, maayo tingaling maghinuklog sila ug hunahunaon gyu’g maayo kay naa gyu’y Diyos sa Langit nga nahibawo sa tanang panghitabo, nahibawo unsa’y naa sa imong kasingkasing,” Garcia said.

“If it’s not too late mag-usab sa ilang mga paamagi, pero kung medyo might be too late in their life, aw Merry Christmas na lang,” she remarked. (Eleanor Valeros, Mylen Manto)