Ombudsman endorses Cebu solon’s ouster

Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa

CEBU CITY—An administration congressman has been ordered dismissed from service for conflict of interest after his two schools were found to have collected from the city government at least P51 million for the tuition and other fees of its scholars while he was still a member of the city council.

The Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas also found probable cause to file criminal charges against Representative Rodrigo Abellanosa (BOPK, Cebu City south district), who is serving his first term in office, for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. BOPK is a local party allied with the ruling Liberal Party.

In a decision dated May 16 and approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, the Ombudsman-Visayas found Abellanosa guilty of grave misconduct and ordered his dismissal from the service, the forfeiture of his retirement benefits and his perpetual disqualification from government service.

The order would be endorsed to the House of Representatives or its committee on ethics for appropriate action, the decision said.

Not yet final? 

Abellanosa said the Ombudsman’s order was not yet final since he had a pending motion for reconsideration.

Should his motion be denied, Abellanosa said he would explore other avenues.

The order stemmed from the complaint filed by Philip Banguiran in 2012 when Abellanosa was still a city councilor.

In the complaint, Banguiran accused Abellanosa of conflict of interest after his two schools—Asian College of Technology (ACT) and Asian College of Technology International Education Foundation Inc. (Actief)—became accredited to accept scholars of the city government under the Cebu City Government College Scholarship Program.

The program grants a city scholar P10,000 in tuition and other expenses per semester and P1,000 in monthly allowance.

The program, however, requires scholars to enroll only in accredited schools.

Abellanosa’s schools acquired accreditation through separate resolutions by the city council, of which Abellanosa was a member. They allowed the mayor to enter into two memorandums of agreement (MOA) with Abellanosa’s schools, paving the way for their accreditation.

At the time the MOA took effect, Abellanosa was also president-trustee of ACT and Actief aside from being a councilor.

The MOA also gave Abellanosa’s schools tax reprieves.

In his reply to the Ombudsman-Visayas, Abellanosa said he did not take part in deliberations in the city council on the two resolutions that led to his schools’ accreditation.

He said he had no control over the mayor or the council or the operations of his schools.

But Ombudsman-Visayas investigators would not buy Abellanosa’s explanation. “Conflict of interest is obvious,” said Jess Vincent dela Pena, graft investigation and prosecution officer who wrote the decision for the Ombudsman-Visayas.

Dela Pena pointed to records showing that Abellanosa signed the two MOA with the city government on behalf of his schools.

The congressman’s schools have received at least P51 million for the scholarship program and is trying to collect at least P120 million more.

‘Pecuniary interest’ 

“The respondent indirectly or directly has material or pecuniary interest” in the scholarship program, Dela Pena said in the decision. It said the implementation of the two MOA between Abellanosa’s schools and the city government “benefited the respondent’s schools.”

“Respondent’s exercise of dual positions has created conflict of interest which is prohibited by law,” the decision said. “It is not an isolated incident, nor an error of judgment,” it added.

Abellanosa had invoked the Aguinaldo Doctrine in the administrative complaint but Dela Pena said it would not save the congressman.

Under the Aguinaldo Doctrine, a reelected public official is spared from administrative liability for acts committed prior to his reelection.

Dela Pena’s decision said “invoking the Aguinaldo Doctrine … has no leg to stand on” since Abellanosa had not been reelected as councilor but was elected as congressman.

Abellanosa’s lawyers questioned the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman-Visayas, saying his case should have been investigated by the House.

The congressman said he did not benefit from the scholarship program because his schools were “nonstock and nonprofit.”