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Mayor of storm-devastated town faces plunder raps

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TACLOBAN CITY—The mayor of Guiuan, the southernmost town of Eastern Samar province that was badly devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in 2013, is facing charges of plunder, graft and corruption at the Office of the Ombudsman for the alleged overprice of repair of 89 barangay halls and day-care centers amounting to P111.84 million.

Mayor Christopher Sheen Gonzales, who is seeking another term, said the timing of the filing made him suspect that it was politically motivated.

The complaint was filed by Kiriath Jearn Andrie Tumanda and Avelino Balagbis Jr. of Lapian ng mga Responsableng Anak ng Guiuan, who said the labor and materials for the projects were supplied by Gonzales’ brothers, Vicente Leo and Mark Pol.

The barangay halls and day-care centers were damaged when Yolanda, the world’s strongest typhoon, made its first landfall in Guiuan on Nov. 8, 2013.

Named respondents in the complaint were Gonzales and his two brothers; Pedro Noval Jr., director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for Eastern Visayas; and municipal engineer Artemio Salameda.

The mayor, a candidate of the Nacionalista Party, is seeking reelection against Floro Guimbaolibot of the Liberal Party and independent candidate Pax Ablay.

“How could they say that these were tainted with irregularities when only 70 to 80 percent of these projects were completed?” Gonzales asked when reached by the Inquirer through his mobile phone.

These projects were monitored and reviewed by the DILG, which funded the repair under its Reconstruction Assistance for Yolanda.

The department released P152.99 million for the repair of Guiuan’s barangay halls and day-care centers. But the complainants said the repair should cost only P41.143 million, or an overprice of P111 million.

Based on the estimate of the Department of Public Works and Highways, a one-story classroom building would cost only P16,698 per square meter, they said, but the cost of the construction of the day-care centers and barangay halls ranged from P1 million to P2.5 million.

This meant that the cost per square meters for these projects was estimated at P42,857, the complainants said.

Noval said he did not understand why he was included in the complaint which he described as a case of harassment. “It is only the Commission on Audit which could say if these projects were overpriced or not,” he said.

The official said this was the first time a complaint was filed against him in his 41 years in public service. He is due to retire this year.

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