A WHISTLEBLOWER from Lagayan town in Abra has filed before the Ombudsman a P133-million plunder case against former mayor and congresswoman Cecilia Seares-Luna and her eldest son Jendricks.
Bernadine Joson, who served as Lagayan’s municipal planning and development officer from 1998 up to a few months ago, also filed charges of technical malversation, unethical conduct, violation of the government procurement law and forfeiture against the Lunas and other town officials.
The consolidated complaint accused Cecilia of plunder for failing to account for some P56 million in municipal funds during her term as mayor. The amount represented funds meant for town employees’ salaries and benefits, calamity funds and development projects.
Cecilia was mayor for three terms from 1998 to 2007, but the complaint only covered the years 2003 to 2006, for which the complainant had records.
Jendricks, who succeeded his mother as mayor when she became congresswoman in 2007, was also charged with plunder. He is being made to account for P77 million in Lagayan funds from 2007 to 2010.
In her complaint, Joson also asked the Ombudsman to “institute forfeiture proceedings against the properties, assets and financial holdings of Respondents, pursuant to the applicable provisions of RA 1379, the Forfeiture Law.”
Joson is being represented in the case by Center Law Philippines counsels Romel Bagares and Harry Roque.
Joson filed separate charges of grave misconduct, dereliction of duty and gross negligence against Lagayan’s incumbent mayor and vice-mayor. The mayor is Cecilia’s aunt, 82-year-old Purificacion Paingan who is accused of being a mere figurehead in a town controlled by Jendricks. The vice mayor is Lara Haya Luna, Cecilia’s youngest daughter who was charged for her chronic absenteeism, and her failure to fulfill her duties.
“The plundering ways of Cecilia Seares Luna and Jendricks Seares Luna could not have been made possible without the willing and active cooperation of the following persons, namely: Municipal Treasurer Marissa G. Donato, Municipal Accountant Meno C. Dickenson and Municipal Engineer Osborne P. Dolaoen. It is for this reason that I also included them as their conspirators in the plunder of public funds in the town of Lagayan,” Joson said in her complaint.
Listed as sources of the P133 million missing funds were underpayment of salaries, salaries for vacant positions, employees’ clothing allowance, calamity fund, maintenance and other operating expenses, as well as the town’s share of excise taxes from tobacco products.
Joson said her job as municipal planning officer exposed her to “the intricacies of big time corruption” in Lagayan. She drew up payrolls for ghost employees, planned for development projects that were funded but never implemented, sustained cuts in her salary, and never received other benefits appropriated for the town’s budget.
Cecilia and Jendricks, in separate phone interviews on Monday, denied the charges.
Joson also accused the Lunas of amassing unexplained wealth over the years. “The Lunas are known to own at least 20 vehicles of various makes,” she said in her complaint. “Jendricks himself, in 2010, bought a late model silver BMW Z3 roadster, with a retractable top. His brother Ryan owns a white bullet-proof van, which he acquired when he was just a barangay captain of Barangay Dangdangla in Bangued, Abra in 2009. Jendricks also gave to his mother Cecilia a black Porsche during her birthday in March this year.”
The complaint further said: “Cecilia is also said to have been the source of a Red Innova AUV (plate number ZEZ 120) now being used by the the municipal treasurer, Marissa G. Donato and registered in her own name. Jendricks also gave as a gift to the municipal engineer a second-hand Red Mazda car and a second-hand Red Toyota pickup to municipal Engr. Osborne Dolaoen. Both vehicles are registered in Dolaoen’s name.”