DAGUPAN Mayor Benjamin Lim is not yet off the hook in connection with the controversial Awai land deal in 2002 wherein the Dagupan City government paid P16 million for a less than 30-hectare land in Barangay Awai, San Jacinto, supposedly for a sanitary landfill project.
Even as the administrative aspect of the case has been dismissed by Malacañang through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. acting on authority of the President, the criminal case on the matter filed by citizen Leo Angeles against Lim and his supposed business associate Jose Mariano Cuna before the Ombudsman remains pending.
Legal experts in Dagupan opined that the criminal case is more significant than the administrative case.
Former Dagupan City Vice Mayor Teodoro Manaois III, a lawyer, explained that the administrative complaint against Lim is separate from the criminal case and the latter will continue even if the administrative complaint has already been dismissed.
Meanwhile, retired City Court Judge George Mejia, while agreeing with the Malacañang order, said “it is the criminal case that really matters”.
In the Malacañang order, Ochoa cited a Supreme Court decision in Pascual versus the Provincial Board of Nueva Ecija that states, “the reelection to office is a condonation of the officer’s previous misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove him therefore”.
This means that local elective officials cannot be subjected to disciplinary sanctions for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term.
Manaois believes the criminal case filed by Angeles is strong while the dismissal of the administrative case was really expected.
“So, why make a big fuss out of it?” said Manaois.
Mejia said it is premature for Lim and his supporters to rejoice what they call a “victory”.
Records show it was Cuna who sold the property to the Dagupan City government in 2002, during which Lim was mayor, for P16 million, just four months after he bought the property from Estrella Sangalang for only P7 million.
STILL NO LANDFILL
Angeles asserts in his petition that the deal was disadvantageous to the city.
Further, the land is actually under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and has already been awarded to farmers.
Lim, nonetheless, said in a press statement that he hopes the criminal case will also be dismissed by the Ombudsman.
He described the Awai land as most ideal site for a sanitary landfill because it is a gorge, a narrow ravine between hills, and no excavation has to be done to make a landfill.
Lim said his administration is working quietly with the Department of Agrarian Reform for a possible compromise with some tenants occupying the area.
“We are looking for a win-win solution to this minor problem,” he said.
It is estimated that at least P200 million is needed by any local government unit for the construction of a sanitary landfill. (with report from CIO)