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EDITORIAL - Toothless order

The offense was committed in 2008, when the official who signed the questioned deal was governor of Cebu. Gwendolyn Garcia was indicted for graft and technical malversation for the purchase of 24.92 hectares of property in the province, of which 19.67 hectares were reportedly submerged in water and not suitable for human settlement.

Court papers also said Garcia did not secure authorization from the provincial board for the procurement of backfilling materials for the submerged area, amounting to nearly P24.5 million. This week, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales found Garcia guilty and ordered her dismissed and permanently barred from holding public office, with her retirement benefits forfeited and civil service eligibility canceled.

Garcia, however, is no longer Cebu governor but deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, having been a member of Congress since 2013 while her graft case was pending. The House leadership, supported by Malacañang, said only the chamber can implement an order to dismiss its members, and there is no reason to kick out Garcia from the legislature at this point. The ombudsman insists it has jurisdiction over lawmakers when it comes to graft cases.

This crisis between two independent bodies could have been avoided with speedier resolution of graft cases. If Garcia had been deemed ineligible for public office following her retirement as governor, she might not have made it to Congress. The ombudsman could have made a stronger case for her guilt. Because of the release of the ruling on Monday, however, Garcia can claim that she is being harassed by Morales for taking an active part in impeachment hearings against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who like the ombudsman was appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III. Garcia’s House colleagues have rallied around her.

Yesterday, lawmakers also said the Court of Appeals had ruled in 2014 that the ombudsman lacked jurisdiction over the case and tossed out the complaint.

This case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court, where it will probably languish long after Garcia has finished her latest three-year term. Slow justice also defangs the law.

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