Politics behind Gov. Cua’s preventive suspension?
posted 20-Jan-2019  ·  
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This possibility was raised by allies of Governor Joseph Cua after it was disclosed that the camp of Congressman Cesar Sarmiento apparently knew of the former’s impending preventive suspension as early as the last two months of 2018.

Several reliable sources contacted by the Tribune confirmed that some insiders of the Sarmiento camp had been bragging that “something big would happen” to Gov.  Cua before the year was over.

According to one source, the complaint was prepared by a known critic of the governor and Bato Mayor Eulogio Rodriguez, with the complainant on record, Rey Mendez, allegedly persuaded to sign the document accusing the duo of abuse of authority, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, dishonesty and grave misconduct.

In the order served last Jan. 11, 2019 at the governor’s office, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Regional Director Atty. Anthony Nuyda directed Cua to stop from  performing the functions and responsibilities pertaining to his office and vacate it upon receipt.

Cua, who was in Manila for an official function at the time the order was served, will have to go around as a private individual for the 45-day election campaign beginning March 29.

The DILG also asked the chief executive to turn over all pending accountabilities and transactions from the provincial local government unit or other government agencies.

On the same day, Vice Governor Shirley Abundo took over the reins of the provincial government as acting governor, following the implementation of the six-month suspension meted by the Ombudsman on Cua over a contractor’s use of a capitol-owned vacant lot.

Senior provincial board member Rafael Zuniega is now acting vice governor and will have to deal with the Sangguniang Panlalawigan largely composed of PBMs allied with former Vice Gov. Jose Teves Jr.

The Ombudsman order was approved on Jan. 8, with DILG Assistant Secretary Marivel Sacendoncillo directing the Bicol regional office to cause its implementation two days later.

In the order issued by Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval and approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, Cua was preventively suspended without pay during the pendency of the case until its termination, but not to exceed a total period of six months.

However, it denied the prayer for the similar suspension of Rodriguez, as the evidence of guilt against him is not strong.

In his complaint-affidavit, Mendez alleged that Cua allowed ERR Construction, a company owned by the Bato mayor, to use the vacant lot beside the Land Bank branch free of charge and without authority granted by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

He claimed that the lot, on which the former JMA Theater once stood, was used as bunkhouse for the company’s employees as well as garage for heavy equipment and construction materials from January 2017 until March 26, 2018. The company moved out of the property after a certain Mr. Esplana of Legazpi City sent a letter questioning the use of the property to the damage of the public.

In finding sufficient basis to place Cua under preventive suspension, Sandoval stated that the provincial chief executive is ultimately accountable for the use and enjoyment of the province’s properties.

“Cua’s implicit permission of allowing a private company to make use of a public property free of charge for more than one (1) year without any benefit inuring to the provincial government or authorization from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for the use of the property, appears to have caused undue injury to the government and extended unwarranted benefits to ER Construction through manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence. The property, being centrally located, could have generated revenue for the province in terms of rentals,” the Ombudsman prosecutor reasoned.

“In addition, Cua’s inaction on the construction company’s use of public property serves to validate the allegation that he is a business partner of ER Construction, in which case, he would stand to benefit from any endeavor of the company, including the use of the subject property of the province free of charge,” he added.

The testimony of complainant and the documents presented, which Sandoval said are indicative of strong evidence of guilt against Cua, at this stage compel the Ombudsman to grant the preventive suspension prayed for.

“The accusatory allegations contained in the complaint against Cua, if proven true, could warrant removal from government service,” the graft body stressed. “Cua’s continued stay in office pending the final disposition of this complaint may prejudice the case filed against him, more particularly witnesses and other documentary evidence that are still under their control.”

According to a source at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Catanduanes District Engineering Office, ERR Construction utilized the vacant lot in connection with its contract for the construction of drainage and widening along the national highway in Virac poblacion.

It was confirmed that DPWH infrastructure contracts do not allocate funding for the rental of property for use as site for the project bunkhouse and materials stockpile of contractors.

The specific program of works prepared by DPWH engineers only provide for the construction of bunkhouse, leaving the contractors to negotiate with local government units or private landowners for the use of road sides or vacant lots often for free or in exchange for materials or employment.

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