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Ombudsman finds DA's Evangelista guilty of grave misconduct, orders dismissal from service

The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of Department of Agriculture (DA) Assistant Secretary for Consumer Affairs Kristine Evangelista in connection with the allegedly anomalous deal with an onion supplier for the agency’s Kadiwa stores.

In August, Evangelista and several others were slapped with a six-month preventive suspension without pay over alleged violations of the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act and Procurement Law due to the shortage of supply of onions in local markets, its alleged price manipulation, and the questionable procurement of onions by FTI from Bonena Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

Aside from Evangelista, also suspended were DA Administrative Officer V Eunice Biblanias, DA OIC-Chief Accountant Lolita Jamela, Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) Vice President for Operations John Gabriel Benedict Trinidad III, and FTI Budget Division Head Juanita Lualhati.

The five DA officials, as well as DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban and FTI President Robert Tan, are facing complaints for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in connection with the onion supply deal.

In a decision released to the media on Friday, the Ombudsman finds Evangelista “guilty of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service.”

With this, she was slapped with the penalty of dismissal from the service.

‘I’m not a corrupt official’

In a statement, Evangelista insisted that she is not a corrupt government official.

“Alam po ng mga nakakakilala sa akin na hindi ako corrupt. Ni minsan ay hindi ako nakasuhan ng pagnanakaw. Mapapatunayan yan ng mga magsasaka at ibang stakeholders ng agricultural sector na nakasama at nakaugnayan ko,” the axed DA official said.

(Those who know me can attest that I am not corrupt. I have never been accused of theft. This can be proven by the farmers and other stakeholders that I got in touch with.)

The embattled agriculture official went on to say that she can face her children, loved ones, and the Filipino with pride, knowing that her conscience is clean amidst the allegations against her.

“I believe that there is a solution to the food crisis we are facing and the government  has the responsibility to implement programs to protect and serve every Filipino,” Evangelista said.

“I always tell my children that we have the moral responsibility to fight for what is right and fight for people who cannot fight for themselves. I took the road less travelled, the path of public service that is willing to introduce change,” she said.

Likewise, FTI’s Trinidad was found guilty of gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service and was ordered dismissed.

“The principal penalty of dismissal from the service is imposed pursuant to Section 46 (A)(1) & (3), Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, and shall carry with it the cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification for re-employment in the government service,” the Ombudsman said.

“In the event that the penalty of Dismissal can no longer be enforced due to respondent/s' separation from the service, the same shall be converted into a Fine in the amount equivalent to respondent/s' salary for one year, payable to the Office of the Ombudsman, and may be deductible from respondent/s' retirement benefits, accrued leave credits or any receivable from his/her office.”

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman dismissed the administrative charges against Panganiban, Biblanias, Jamela, and Lualhati for insufficiency of evidence.

The case against Tan, president of FTI, was also dismissed “with the approval of his manifestation to be a witness and the provide this Office of relevant material prosecution of this case precludes his inclusion in the filing of charges against him.”

Moreover, the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Evangelista and Trinidad along with other individuals in conspiracy with one another, for violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019, as amended; and for violation of Article 172, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code.

The criminal charges against Panganiban, Tan, Jamela, Biblanias, and Lualhati are “dismissed for lack of probable cause,” the Ombudsman said.

“The resolution of this case is without prejudice to the conduct of fact-finding investigation against other public officers and private individuals responsible for the irregularities in the said project,” the Ombudsman added.

"Sang-ayon sa ebidensiya na nakalap namin, mukang minaniobra 'yung presyo ng sibuyas. Mukhang walang bidding na nangyari. May CCTV kaming nakuha sa FTI, mukhang isang tao lang na nagdala ng tatlong envelope at binigay sa senior vice president," Martires said in an interview on Super Radyo dzBB on Friday.

(Based on the evidence we gathered, it seems like the prices of onions were manipulated. It seems like there was no bidding. We obtained CCTV footage from FTI showing what looks like a single person bringing three envelopes to the senior vice president.)

Martires said the personalities created an "artificial shortage of onions." —KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News