Ombudsman disqualifies mayor from public office

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Ombudsman disqualifies mayor from public office

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Former Cortes Mayor Apolinaria Balistoy was perpetually disqualified from holding public office after she was found by the Ombudsman guilty of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct and falsification of official document.

Conchita Carpio Morales, Ombudsman approved on July 23, 2015 the decision promulgated by the Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) on August 27, 2013 and meted out the penalty of dismissal from the service against Balistoy.

The Ombudsman also imposed the imposition of penalty of fine with all the accesssory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding public office and bar from taking civil service examinations.

However, Balistoy whose whereabouts is unknown is still facing criminal charges at the Sandiganbayan and has a standing warrant for her arrest after her motion for reconsideration was denied by the anti graft court.

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The Ombudsman ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Region VII to implement the decision in OMB-V-A-12-0128-C Ombudsman vs. Apolinaria H. Balistoy.

Asterio Hangad, father of Balistoy received the DILG order on October 16, 2015 signed by Regional Director VII Atty. Rene Burdeos in behalf of his daughter who sat as mayor of Cortes for nine years.

The Ombudsman decision on the administrative case further ordered that in the event the penalty of dismissal can  no longer be enforced due to Balistoy’s separation from service, the penalty shall be converted into a fine equivalent to her salary for one year, payable to the Ombudsman.

But the accessory penalties attached to the principal penalty of Dismissal shall continue to be imposed, according to the decision.

The case against Balistoy stemmed mostly from the Commission on Audit Annual Audit Report (COA-AAR) for the year 2011 that found violations in the handling of funds of the municipality.

According to the COA report, upon the assumption of Vice Mayor Danilo Montero on May, 2012 as acting mayor due to the leave of absence filed by Balistoy, an inventory of all documents and properties was conducted resulting in the discovery of 49 disbursement vouchers missing.

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It turned out, according to the COA report that 35 of the missing vouchers were in the name of Balistoy amounting to P240,603.47.

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The audit report disclosed that Balistoy allegedly undertook the preparation and release of checks for the vouchers instead of the treasurer’s office. The COA noted that Balistoy was performing the job of the Chief Executive and disbursing officer at the same time.

Balistoy also disbursed P341,000.00 intended for operating expenses were found excessive and irregular that included expenses for four travels to the Civil Service Commission office in Cebu.

The COA report revealed that the traveling expenses for the four trips to the CSC office amounting to P20,779.50 were not supported by travel orders from the Office of the Governor while all supporting documents except official receipts and boat tickets were all photocopies.

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It was also found out by the COA that the certificate of appearances submitted by Balistoy was signed by a CSC employee who retired almost a year before she made the travel to Cebu.

Balistoy also incurred car rental expenses amounting to P85,695.00 for a period of five months at P985/day which is no longer allowed.

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One of the items discovered by the Audit Report was the cash advance for gasoline expenses amounting to P80,051.00 for two months unsupported by trip tickets and purchase orders with gasoline purchases ranging from P300.00 to P3,200.00 per day.

More than half of the 96 gasoline purchases were usually withdrawn from Marythel Gas station in Lanao, Dao, Tagbilaran City owned by Ma. Thelma Ayeng which according to COA was “indicative of a favored supplier”.

Despite the rental of service vehicle for Balistoy and her staff, expenses for vehicle maintenance amounting to P21,270.00 were charged to the LGU without vehicle identification if private or government owned, according to the COA.

The purchase of 39 cell phone cards worth P16,700.00 and used in 28 days was found to be “extravagant and excessive” by the COA.

Expenses for meals and snacks during seminars, meetings and conferences amounting to P78,005.50 were supported by dubious sets of attendance sheets.

Payments for the traveling expenses of Balistoy and her son, Junn Eckard then a newly elected SB member amounting to P105,000.00 were not authorized.

According to the COA report, Balistoy’s son attended a seminar before he assumed office therefore is not entitled to use government funds while her mother was in Cebu instead of in Manila attending the seminar with her son.

In another seminar purportedly attended by Balistoy and her son Junn Eckart, the COA found that Balistoy was in Digos, Davao del Sur for a solid waste seminar on the same day she was suppose to attend a seminar in Manila with her son who was also in Bohol.

Attendance in seminars where it appears that Balistoy together with her son were in two places at the same time did not escape the COA auditors including splitting of contracts, irregular purchases of equipment and supplies.

The criminal aspect of the graft case against Balistoy is now in the Sandiganbayan while the search for the mayor who served the town of Cortes for nine years from 2004-2013 is now in the hands of authorities. (Chito M. Visarra)

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