BY MARCHEL P. ESPINA
The Commission on Audit lifted the Notice of Disallowance issued against 14 Bacolod City officials, including Mayor Evelio Leonardia, on the alleged illegal purchase by the city government of a 7-hectare property in Barangay Felisa for its solid waste disposal facility.
The eight-page COA ruling, signed by chairperson Michael Aguinaldo and commissioners Jose Fabia and Roland Pondoc, on January 29, 2020 affirmed the earlier decision of COA Region 6 on September 27, 2019 to lift the disallowance.
The city bought the property owned by the Dynasty Agricultural Corporation in 2008 at P340 per square meter or for a total price of P23.8 million, which the local COA auditor initially declared to be excessive based on the report of its regional Technical and Information Technology Services Office that appraised it for an average of only P261.77 per square meter, or for a total price of P18,323,719.05, after the city consummated the sale.
The city was able to partially pay P20 million of the purchase price but was prevented from making the final payment of P3.8 million, owing to the intervening COA disallowance that was issued on the transaction.
The city filed its appeal against the disallowance on July 12, 2012.
The latest COA ruling said the price of P340/sq.m. or the acquisition price of P23.8 million is “fair and reasonable for the property, thus, not excessive”.
COA said it agreed with the stand of its regional office that the acquisition price of P23.8 million at P340/sq.m. is fair and reasonable, being even lower than the city’s own valuation of P360/sq.m. and the Bureau of Internal Revenue Zonal Value of P400/sq.m.
The commission also said it finds no irregularities on the appraisal report made by the City Appraisal Committee as it was derived from the schedule of Fair Market Values, which is based on the records of all transfers, leases, and mortgages of real property, rentals issuance, cost of construction of buildings, and other improvements on land and land income maintained by the City Assessor.
It further considered that the appraisal of its technical office failed to assess the consequential damages due to possible devaluation of adjoining properties, also owned by DAC, on account of the operation of the sanitary landfill.
Leonardia, in response, said: “Praise God. Finally, vindication after eight long years.”
The mayor said he is thankful that the overprice issue is finally put to rest.
“It was no joke waiting for eight years for our appeal to COA to be resolved because, aside from the suspense and anxiety of waiting for it, we also had to contend, during the intervening years, with several Ombudsman cases filed against us by our political enemies on the basis of this COA disallowance on the alleged overprice issue,” Leonardia said.
He added, “But by God’s grace, we were also able to successfully defend, at the Ombudsman, the city’s purchase price for the sanitary landfill site that even the Ombudsman eventually dismissed all these administrative and criminal cases for lack of merit and lack of probable cause.”
The mayor stressed that the city officials responsible for this sanitary landfill project, from the planning stage until the consummation of the sale, made sure that they had sufficient and appropriate legal, technical, and reasonable basis for their recommendations to his office.
“This prudent compliance with the rules and sufficiency of legal and technical basis provided the grounds for our successful appeal with the COA, and our defense in the Ombudsman cases filed against us,” Leonardia said.
Other respondents, who were also freed from liability in the disallowance case, are lawyer Maphilindo Polvora, Annabelle Badajos, Engr. Teresita Guadalupe who were members of the City Appraisal Committee;
Various department heads namely: Ricardo Dahil-dahil of the Management Audit Services Office, lawyer Goldwyn Nifras, then secretary to the mayor, City Budget Officer Luzviminda Treyes, City Accountant Eduardo Ravena, Engrs. Efren Canlas, Josephus Cerna, Maximino Sillo, and Noel Impreso and Arch. Lemuel Reynaldo, who were members of the Technical Working Group of the Bacolod City Clean and Green Coordinating Action Team; and former city councilor and now Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya, who was then chair of the BCCGCAT.*