CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed bribery and administrative charges against former San Fernando City Mayor Edwin Santiago and seven other officials for alleged misappropriation of COVID-19 relief funds for residents of this Pampanga province capital.
In a resolution signed on February 3 but not released to the media until Friday, Philippines Ombudsman Samuel Martires dismissed the bribery and administrative claims against Santiago for lack of probable cause and substantive evidence.
Martires also exonerated 10 former mayor’s administrative assistants and three private contractors who were named as defendants in the case, which was based on allegations of involvement in the allegedly overpriced relief supplies given to residents during the lockdown shortly after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic were given in March 2020.
Santiago welcomed the resolution of the case against him on Sunday.
“It is good that the cases have been dropped. These show that our bureaucracy [in San Fernando] works and complies with the law. In 2015 we obtained ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification for procurement, accounting and disbursement. These transparency measures have protected us in local government,” he said in a telephone interview.
Santiago served as the city’s mayor for nine years, serving three consecutive terms from 2013 to 2022.
Melchor Caluag, former chief of Barangay Dolores in the city, filed the lawsuits against Santiago and the other officials on June 19, 2020, accompanied by then-undersecretary for barangay affairs Martin Diño, following a city council investigation into undisclosed COVID-19 Aid fund of 20 million pesetas.
Caluag accused Santiago of procuring overpriced goods such as rice, tins of sardines and thermal scanners. But “no report of any irregularities as noted by the [city council] was submitted,” reads the Ombudsman’s resolution.
“Truly, records show that the [Commission of Audit]After conducting six audits for the period from March 31, 2020 to December 31, 2021, found that the office of defendant Santiago, representing the government of the city of San Fernando, Pampanga, has no notice of denial, suspension and indictment , refuting the complainant’s allegation of overpricing and/or irregularities in procurement from March 2020 to June 2020,” the resolution reads.
The Inquirer looked for Caluag’s comment, but messages sent to him went unanswered as of Sunday.
The complainant is the husband of the city’s mayor, Vilma Caluag, who won the mayoralty in 2022.
—TONETTE OREJAS INQ