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DOJ wants LTO chief sacked for takeover of Stradcom HQ

March 4, 2011 11:11am

UPDATED 5:45 p.m. - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended the dismissal from service of Land Transportation Office (LTO) head Virginia Torres for her alleged complicity in the takeover of the Stradcom office in December last year.

In an interview with GMA News Online on Friday, DOJ Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III said the fact-finding committee has also recommended to the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) the filing of gross negligence or gross incompetence charges against Torres.

Stradcom, the information technology (IT) service provider of the LTO, is the subject of an intra-corporate dispute that led to the takeover last December 9.

Baraan, head of the DOJ fact-finding committee, said: "Our recommendation is for her to explain why she should not be dismissed from service, or administratively disciplined."

Asked whether Baraan meant the panel made an outright recommendation of Torres' dismissal, Baraan said, "Yes."

He added that following the initiation of the administrative sanctions against Torres, the LTO chief should be "preventively suspended" pending investigation.

"Our report can speak for itself. The ball game is now in the court of the DOTC," said Baraan.

'Unfortunate'

Reacting to the DOJ's move, Stradcom, through its spokesperson Margaux Salcedo, said it will leave to the government the disciplinary actions to be meted out on Torres.

"We have full confidence in the integrity, credibility and impartiality of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the DOJ. We will leave it to the government to impose whatever disciplinary measures it deems necessary," Salcedo said in a statement.

Stradcom likewise lamented that Torres' alleged complicity with the Sumbilla group in the unprecedented takeover of the Stradcom office, which Salcedo said was "unfortunate" for the public.

"Stradcom has worked with 10 LTO chiefs. In fact, it is the first time that Stradcom has encountered an incident like this with an LTO Chief and while such behavior is definitely questionable, we find it very unfortunate because it ultimately affects the public," said Salcedo.

She added that if indeed Torres is suspended from office, Stradcom willl be willing to work with her replacement.

Complicity

Baraan said Torres should be disciplined because she allegedly favored the group led by businessman Bonifacio Sumbilla, who claimed to be the new owners of Stradcom and allegedly ordered the takeover last December.

The takeover paralyzed LTO operations for hours nationwide.

The armed men supposedly refused to let Stradcom technicians handling the LTO’s computerized database enter the area to perform their work.

The Sumbilla group is at war with the group of businessman Cezar Quiambao, incumbent Stradcom chair.

"The committee believes that there were actions or inactions, or even communications, of Torres indicating that she was siding with the other group," said Baraan, referring to the Sumbilla group.

Baraan refused to provide a copy of the panel's report, saying the release of the document is within the discretion of the DOTC.

Torres asserts neutrality

Quiambao had accused Torres of conspiring with the Sumbilla group and of knowing about the takeover of the Stradcom office. On the day of the takeover, Torres and her aide, Menelia Mortel, were reportedly caught on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) entering the Stradcom building with Sumbilla and businessman Aderito Yujuico.

However, during the DOJ's investigation earlier this year, Torres had maintained her neutrality in the corporate dispute between the Sumbilla and Quiambao groups.

She branded as "colorful stories conjured by malicious minds" the allegations that she favored Sumbilla group and added that she was merely a victim caught in the crossfire in the corporate war.

On Friday, Baraan said Torres' aide Mortel should also be disciplined for "grave misconduct."

Inaction?

Baraan said the DOJ panel's investigation showed that as early as December 2, there was already an attempt by the Sumbilla group to take over the Stradcom office.

"In Sumbilla's courtesy call on her, she did not tell the Sumbilla group that this should not happen again," said Baraan.

He added that on the night of December 8, Torres told LTO security guards not to intervene in the dispute between the Sumbilla and Quiambao groups.

Baraan then wondered: "Why did she tell such thing to the security guards? Are you anticipating a clash? She should have instead told the security guards to resist the entry of intruders into the LTO compound, where the Stradcom office is located."

Baraan added that the CCTV footage showing Torres, her executive assistant Mortel, and businessmen Sumbilla and Yujuico at the height of the takeover was a decisive factor that led the investigating committee to conclude that there was complicity between the LTO chief and the Sumbilla group.

Asked whether the businessmen from the Sumbilla group are also facing sanctions, Baraan said: "This is an administrative [matter], those from the Sumbilla group are not government employees so the DOTC does not have jurisdiction over them."

Baraan likewise denied claims by the Sumbilla group that he had ties with the Quiambao group.

"I don't know if [these insinuations] are intended to cloak the truth. What they [Sumbilla group] should have done is presented their side to the hearings. But instead, they chose to snub the hearings. In the case of Torres, she had a single appearance, but in the three other hearings she was not there. The purpose of the investigation was sidetracked because of this," said Baraan.

Connivance with car thieves?

Torres is also facing a separate investigation at the DOJ for her alleged connivance with car theft syndicates.

In 2009, the police's Highway Patrol Group filed charges against Torres for alleged falsification of documents when she headed the LTO's Tarlac City office.

Torres supposedly facilitated the illegal registration of a sports utility vehicle -- an allegation she has already denied. The criminal case is pending at the DOJ.

A ranking department official who refused to be named said the prosecutor handling the case is still revising his report on the preliminary investigation on Torres. – VVP, GMA News
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