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COA affirms ruling against Palawan execs, eyes criminal charges

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by Allan Yves Briones

The Commission on Audit Commission Proper (COA-CP) affirmed its decision holding the officials of the provincial government of Palawan liable for not collecting P4.77 million in penalties on unpaid real property taxes (RPT).

“The issuance of (notice) due to under-collection of penalties on RPT by the Municipality of Aborlan is proper because in the granting of tax relief and incentives by the municipality …the requirements set forth under Section 276 of RA No. 7160 were not complied with,” COA-CP stated in a decision promulgated September 4.

The case dates back to May 14, 2014, when the provincial government of Palawan passed Ordinance No. 1416-14 which granted tax relief and incentives to “all real property owners” who failed to pay their real estate taxes.

On June 9, 2015, the local audit team issued a Notice of Charge against the municipality in the amount of P4.77 million which represented its “under-collection on penalties of unpaid RPTs.”

Held liable in the complaint are the following:

Lilia Jara, Municipal Treasurer
Jose Alvarez, Governor
Victorino Socrates, Vice Governor
Winston Arzaga, Sanggunian Panlalawigan member
Leoncio Ola, SP member
Albert Rama, SP member
David Francis Ponce de Leon, SP member
Cherry Pie Acosta, SP member
Sunny Batul, SP member
Richristopher Magbanua, SP member
Noel Jagmis, Sr., SP member
Elino Mondragon, Provincial Treasurer

In their appeal filed December 8, 2015, they argued that, as elected officials, their actions enjoy the “presumption of regularity” overthrown only through sufficient evidence.

In addition, they claimed that Section 192 of Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 does not expressly prohibit the “non-imposition of penalties and reduction of back taxes.”

However, COA-CP found that the ordinance violated Section 276 of the code.

“It must be stressed that PO No. 1416-14 granted tax relief on the interest and penalties of unpaid RPTs incurred by delinquent real property owners in previous years, not succeeding years; and such tax relief and incentive were granted in the absence of any calamity affecting the Municipality of Aborlan,” COA-CP stated.

In addition, the three-man panel cleared Municipal Treasurer Jara given that her participation in the transaction was “based on the directive of the Provincial Treasurer”, and that expressed her objection through signing Samahang Pambayang Ingat Yaman ng Palawan Resolution No. 001-2014 which opposed the same.

In the dispositive portion of the ruling, COA-CP called on the Prosecution and Litigation Office to forward the case to the Office of the Ombudsman for investigation and filing of charges.

The three-man panel is composed of Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose Fabia and Roland Pondoc. #