• Ombudsman throws out administrative charges vs. BCDA head

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    The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has scored a legal victory anew, after the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the criminal and administrative complaints filed by lawyer Howard Calleja against BCDA President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Arnel Paciano Casanova.

    “We applaud the Ombudsman’s Office for their fair and speedy resolution of this issue,” Casanova said.

    Calleja argued in his complaint that Casanova should be charged with usurpation of authority, a criminal case, as well as an administrative case of dishonesty and grave misconduct, for performing as the BCDA president, since the BCDA charter stipulates that the agency’s chairman of the board should also be its president. He said that when the position was split between Casanova and then-Chairman Felicito Payumo in April 2011, the law was violated.

    The criminal complaint was dismissed because of lack of probable cause, while the administrative complaint was junked because of lack of substantial evidence.

    ‘Duly appointed’
    In its Joint Resolution, the Ombudsman said that there is no probable cause to file the criminal charges against Casanova, since “it is clear from the appointment letter dated April 07, 2011 issued by Malacañang Palace . . . that [Casanova] was duly appointed as president and CEO of the BCDA. Thus, respondent Casanova is clothed with the color of title and cannot be considered a ‘usurper.’”

    The Resolution also stated that “although complainant contends that such appointment is illegal, until and unless a court of justice exercises its power of judicial review in a proper proceeding and declares the act of appointment by the President of the Philippines as illegal, such executive act enjoys the presumption of validity.”

    It went on to say that “for the same reasons as discussed above, this Office finds no substantial evidence to sanction” Casanova for the administrative complaint.

    Casanova said that he and the BCDA will “not run away from any complaints or cases lobbied against us. We are firm practitioners of transparency and good governance, so we have nothing to hide.”

    Calleja led informal settlers
    Calleja represented retired Col. Benjamin Zabat, president of the Consular Area Residents Association Inc. (Carai), who led a group of informal settlers in its dispute against the BCDA. The group has been among the occupants of a 35.5-ha portion of government-owned land in Fort Bonifacio known as the Jusmag, on which the BCDA has sole administrative jurisdiction.

    The Consular area, where Zabat resides, was not included in the dismantling operations at the Jusmag property.

    The BCDA invoked its right on the land in 2012 to give way to the development of the property. This was met with fierce resistance by Zabat and his group, who refused to vacate the property. Eventually, the families which have been rallied by Zabat also vacated the area.

    BCDA ‘will not be deterred’
    “Considering who Atty. Calleja is working for, it is clear what his motive for filing those criminal and administrative cases are,” Casanova added. “He is trying to undermine and question the authority of our office. But as made clear by the Ombudsman’s resolution, he has failed in his attempt.”
    Raadee S. Sausa

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