SC affirms hold departure orders vs Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 05 2019 11:31 AM

Cebu Representative Gwendolyn Garcia during the house hearing on the probable cause of impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on February 27, 2018. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Supreme Court has upheld the hold departure orders issued by the Sandiganbayan against Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia over her graft cases, which stemmed from an allegedly anomalous purchase of property when she was governor.

The anti-graft court did not commit abuse of discretion in denying Garcia's motion for reconsideration and plea for the lifting of the hold departure order, the high tribunal said in its dismissal of the legislator's petition for certiorari.

The Sandiganbayan orders barring the lawmaker from leaving the country without court approval "were validly issued pursuant to its inherent powers as a court of justice," said the SC in a decision penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes.

Hold departure orders were issued against Garcia in 2012 after the Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to file graft and technical malversation charges against her and several other respondents.

Garcia argued that these were invalid and premature because they were issued before the Ombudsman ruled with finality, but the Supreme Court said this reasoning "lacks merit."

"That the petitioner may seek reconsideration of the finding of probable cause against her by the OMB does not undermine nor suspend the jurisdiction already acquired by the Sandiganbayan," the decision read.

The SC said there was no denial of due process because Garcia "was not precluded from filing a motion for reconsideration" of the Ombudsman resolution. The motion can be resolved "concurrently" with the proceedings before the Sandiganbayan, the tribunal added.

Graft and technical malversation charges were filed against Garcia and 6 other Cebu provincial officials over the alleged anomalous purchase of a 25-hectare land in Tiga-an village in Naga town for P98.9 million.

Investigation revealed that a large part of the property is submerged in seawater.

The money used to purchase the land was also allegedly diverted by Garcia from the Site Development and Housing Program without permission from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.