VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/06 June) — City Mayor Jose Galario Jr. has been declared a fugitive after he failed to show up when police came to his office and to his residence in Barangay Bagontaas to serve the warrant of arrest issued by the Sandiganbayan that found him guilty of graft.
The anti-graft court declared Galario guilty for refusing to comply with a Civil Service Commission order to reinstate now retired city budget officer Ruth Piano whom he repeatedly relieved and transferred to other positions in city hall.
Police provincial director Supt. Glenn dela Torre, who led the joint police and National Bureau of Investigation operatives, said Galario is now a fugitive after failing to show up in his residence and in his office when they served the warrant Friday.
Citizens who could pinpoint Galario’s whereabouts may claim a reward from Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., who has instituted an incentive system to control criminality in the province, dela Torre said in a press conference after the failed attempt to serve the warrant.
He said they will continue pursuing Galario, adding there were reports the mayor was confined in an undisclosed hospital for an operation.
He cited a police intelligence report that Galario was no longer in Bukidnon since Tuesday (June 3). He, however, assured they have initiated measures to ascertain his present whereabouts but they “cannot disclose at this point”.
The “bench warrant of arrest” against Galario for Sandiganbayan First Division Case No. 28231, was issued by 1st Division Chairperson Efren dela Cruz on May 22. Dela Torre said he received his copy yesterday.
The court’s decision on May 14, 2014 cited that Galario was convicted for violation of Section 3f of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Section 3f refers to acts of “neglecting or refusing, after due demand or request, without sufficient justification, to act within a reasonable time on any matter pending before him for the purpose of obtaining, directly or indirectly, from any person interested in the matter some pecuniary or material benefit or advantage, or for the purpose of favoring his own interest or giving undue advantage in favor of or discriminating against any other interested party.”
In 2001, Galario relieved Piano and transferred her to different offices. She filed constructive dismissal complaints against Galario before the CSC regional office in Cagayan de Oro City. She won her case resulting in the issuance of a reinstatement order on May 5, 2003.
However, after three months, Galario again relieved her of her position.
The Sandiganbayan First Division, in a decision handed down in 2012 sentenced Galario to a maximum of seven years and barred him from holding any public office.
In its 44-page ruling, the Sandiganbayan said the mayor tried “to hide behind the excuse that he had sufficient reason to ignore” the CSC’s orders and Piano’s requests for reinstatement because the resolution ordering the reinstatement did not attain finality until May 17, 2004.
But the court said “it is clear from the previously quoted Civil Service Rules that a decision of the Commission attains finality upon the lapse of 15 days without the filing of an appeal with the Court of Appeals or a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court.”
“Galario cannot get off the hook simply by reinstating Piano without giving her the authority appurtenant to her position as City Budget Officer,” it added.
City councilor Glenn Galario, the mayor’s son said they appealed the decision then.
He said his father’s detractors interceded for the speedy release of the warrant, and called the supposed move “politically motivated”.
Not the end
The younger Galario spoke with dela Torre at his (Galario) residence but did not say where his father was.
“We have no contacts as of now and it’s not healthy for me to contact him. As to his whereabouts I do not know,” he said, but added that “wherever he is now, he is in a safe place”.
He added that if he would know, he would probably tell somehow “but not now.”
“Outside forces were behind the move. The interference of the lawyers was behind this,” Galario said.
He said there were people who opposed his father’s return to his post as mayor.
He added a “woman,” “a man,” “a big politician” and “a former employee (of the city)” are behind it.
Galario said he anticipated the issuance of the warrant but told reporters that “it is not yet over.”
“This is not the final adjudication of the case. We will wait for the final adjudication of the case,” he emphasized, but refused to reveal their next legal move.
“Truth will come out,” he added.
Still in PH
Supt. Canilo Fuentes, Valencia City police chief, told reporters Galario is not yet out of the country “but they are anticipating the issuance of a hold departure order, just in case.”
“Definitely, he is still in the Philippines,” he said, citing that the mayor told barangay chairpersons in a meeting that he will face the case up to the end.
Bruce Colao, provincial director of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), told radio station DXDB-AM Friday afternoon that Joel Fernandez, the city administrator, whom Galario named as officer-in-charge, has three days before Vice Mayor Azucena Huervas officially takes over as mayor.
He said the conviction has barred Galario to hold public office as an “accessory penalty”, which has created a permanent vacancy on the position of mayor.
But he noted that normally the Sandiganbayan would inform the DILG that a local official has been removed from office. He said they had received no such directive so far.
‘There’s still justice’
Piano, who has already retired, told radio station DXCR-Valencia that she welcomed the conviction and the issuance of the warrant of arrest.
Galario replaced Piano as budget officer as soon as he assumed office as city mayor on July 2, 2001. He was reelected in 2004.
“We are happy there is still justice in the country, no matter how slow,” she added.
She clarified that she only fought for her right and that it was the CSC that elevated the case to the Ombudsman.
Galario lost in 2007 and 2010 to archrival Leandro Jose Catarata, but regained his post in 2013.
Galario garnered 30,012 votes against Catarata’s 27,752. Huervas, Catarata’s running mate, won over two other rivals with 30,099 votes.
Galario, a police chief before entering politics, made history in 2001 when he won as mayor against Carlos O. Fortich, Bukidnon’s longest serving governor who had never lost in previous elections (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)