Ombudsman’s Office

Criminal charges of looting and corruption, including administrative complaints, have been filed with the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) against the re-elected mayor of the city of Lipa, Eric B. Africa, and seven other city staff in related to cash advances of 107.2 million pesos allegedly withdrawn before the last local and national elections on May 9.

The sworn complaint filed by Lipa City resident and taxpayer Levi Lopez was received by the OMB on June 29 and notarized by Joseph Marion P. Navarete, registrar investigator for the Office of the Deputy Luzon Ombudsman.

Africa and the other city employees were charged with violating Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (embezzlement), Article 89 in connection with Article 128 of Presidential Decree No. 1445 (Public Accounts Code) , Section 3(e) of the Anti-Corruption and Corrupt Practices Act and the Revised Rules of 2017 on Administrative Matters in Public Service.

In addition, Africa and the other defendants were charged with pillage under Republic Act 7080, the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Pillage).

The names of the other respondents in the complaint affidavit were City Accountant Ma. Belen M. Villanueva, Chief of Staff Wilfredo S. Rivera, Rochelle L. Catindig and Melany O. Aguila of the City’s Community Affairs Office, and Deputies executives Dexter M. Recio, Philip Maurice C. Ulep and Mary Ann D. Gutierrez.

It was not immediately clear whether the OMB had acted on the complaints. The Manila Bulletin will publish Africa and the other respondents’ response to the charges once they file their counter affidavits if the OMB so requires.

In his affidavit, Lopez claimed that the 107.2 million pesos obtained from March 3 to March 14, 2022 were disbursed, among others, for the financial aid fund for education, the pension for the elderly, the Beneficial aid extended to the transport sector and the allowance of barangay officials.

He asserted that the employee-respondents “occupy coincidental positions, and yet they were appointed as disbursement agents and actually received cash advances, in clear violation of Audit Commission Circular No. 97-002 dated February 10, 1997, on the granting, use and liquidation of cash advances….

He said the COA circular provides: “Only permanently appointed officials will be appointed as paying agents. Elected officials can only benefit from a cash advance for their official travel expenses.

At the same time, Lopez said that “cash advances for financial aid being handled by the city mayor’s office and not the city treasurer’s office is a gross impropriety.”

“Under section 470(d) of the Local Government Code, it is the Treasurer who has the duty to ‘take charge of and exercise good management of the funds of the local government unit concerned’ and ‘undertake the disbursement of all public and other funds the safekeeping of which may be entrusted to it by law or other competent authority,’ he alleged.

“The granting of cash advances for a cumulative amount of more than one hundred million to the above-named personnel to whom the law has not conferred the power to manage the funds of the City is a manifest violation of the Local Authorities Code and no is not in accordance with good morals budgetary management,” he also alleged.

Further, Lopez told the OMB that “the cash advances in question were made two or three weeks prior to March 25, 2022, the start of the campaign period for the 2022 local elections, in which the defendant Africa was running for re-election.”

“It does not take a genius to see that Defendant Africa uses and benefits from public funds for its own political gain. These actions violate Section 3(e) of the Republic Act No. 3019, also known as the Anti-Corruption and Corrupt Practices Act,” he alleged.

At the same time, Lopez cited alleged irregularities in the management and use of Social Improvement Program (SAP) funds.

He claimed that “Review of documents by the COA (Audit Commission) showed that pay slips for SAP for a total of nine (9) people totaling ₱58,500 (₱6 500 each) were not signed by the recipients, thus casting doubt on whether said financial assistance was received by the intended recipients and properly liquidated by those responsible.

He also stated that “in the same Annual Audit Report (AAR), the COA also reported that the city had not submitted the required documents in support of SAP implementation, which is a non-compliance with DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) Circular, and questions the proper execution of prescribed procedures.

“Further, the COA noted that the City failed to meet the deadline for the distribution and liquidation of funds in violation of Item VI of DSWD Administrative Order No. 13, Series of 2021, in relation to the point V of COA circular no. 97-002 of February 10, 1997,” he added.

“The aforesaid badges of impropriety and illegality warrant an investigation into the aforesaid cash advances and the prosecution of those responsible, particularly Defendant Africa under whose watch these transactions are carried out,” Lopez alleged.

“And since these transactions suggest a widespread and prevailing practice, other cash advances, particularly those given to staff in the city mayor’s office, must also be investigated. Ultimately, it must be determined whether the aid financial has been received in full and duly acknowledged by the rightful beneficiaries,” he said.

He asked the OMB “to immediately place all of the respondents on preventive suspension to prevent them from influencing the preliminary investigation in order to protect the integrity of the exhibits and the evidence of their guilt being manifestly strong and the sentence liable to dismissal…”.