Lawyer Rodolfo Elman, officer in charge of the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao said their "Operation Red Plate" monitored the government vehicles used during weekends and parked at beaches, churches, entertainment joints and other establishments.
"Operation Red Plate,” created on May 15 throughout the country, monitored 34 vehicles used on June 10 to 12 in Cagayan de Oro and a total of 60 vehicles on July 7 to 9 and July 14 to 16 in Davao City.
The Ombudsman has since subpoenaed the suspected violators in Cagayan de Oro, Elman said, and are working with the Land Transportation Office for the registration papers of those monitored in Davao City.
But the Ombudsman will have to verify, Elman said, if the vehicles were, indeed, out on official use as indicated in the trip ticket. Government vehicles on official business have corresponding trip tickets indicating the names of passengers, time of departure and arrival, destination or routes taken.
Private use of government vehicles is considered a crime as provided in Section 3-E of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-graft and corrupt practices law. It is also an administrative offense that could result, at the maximum, to dismissal in violation of Section 4 B of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Elman noted that violators are also made to reimburse the government for fuel, wear and tear and other costs.
Elman said violations of these laws include simple acts as delivering and fetching a child to and from school to grave offenses such as using the car for a date in a motel.
He said a patient once complained that an ambulance was not available but as it turned out, it was used by hospital personnel to transport personal belongings.
The average and most common violation, he said, is a detour from an approved destination, like going from Davao City to Tagum City and proceeding to the user's residence in Sto. Tomas town.
Elman said many government personnel take a detour while on official business to attend to their farms and other personal purposes.
Operation Red Plate monitoring teams, Elman said, will also be sent to the cities of Tagum and General Santos and neighboring areas.
Elman, however, acknowledged that the Ombudsman cannot be in many places at the same time. He said they also rely on their partner non-government organizations (NGOs).
Before May 15, Elman said, they monitored abuses of government vehicles from reports passed by their local partners in Mindanao provinces. He also said they used to have an agreement with the Commission on Audi to report on these violations. He cited, for example, violations monitored in Surigao, and Zamboanga cities starting in the late 1990s through NGOs they have accredited as Corruption Prevention Units (CPUs).
Elman said they have partners in all Mindanao regions except in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where they revoked the accreditation of a CPU for abuses and misrepresentation.
“But we are counting on help from the public,” Elman said, “to track the violators in their areas.” He said the mere presence of a vehicle with red plate in any area beyond office hours and during weekend is already suspicious. All government vehicles should be marked with "For official use only,” Elman said, except for vehicles used by undercover investigators.
Elman said the public could help report violations by sending text messages to mobile phone numbers 09175496241 and photos or videos to 09189156279. He said the messages should at least have information on location, time and description of the vehicle including type and color of vehicle and plate number. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)