July 21, 2022
MANILA — A group from the treasurer’s office which has been defrauding the city government of up to P50 million in market revenues has been uncovered by local authorities, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said on Wednesday.
The Baguio police on Wednesday filed malversation complaints against five employees of the City Treasurer’s Office after they allegedly pocketed most of the “arrival fees” paid each day by traders delivering meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables sold at the Baguio City Public Market. The fees are collected for unloading and delivering goods that are sold in the market.
Discrepancies between recorded earnings and the original receipts kept in the city archives were discovered after a review undertaken by market superintendent Marieta Alvarez.
Alvarez said the suspects tried to conceal the theft by padding the receipts. She said her review covered accounts dating back to 2020, upon the mayor’s instructions.
The missing income has been too high not to have been noticed by local accountants, suggesting that many more employees may be involved in the scheme, Magalong told the Inquirer.
He said about 20 employees were suspected of being involved in the racket that might have been taking place for the last 10 years, although growing evidence suggests the malversation may have begun much earlier.
A revamp of the collection team members overseeing market revenues is taking place, Magalong said.
“We will also require digital payments from merchants,” he said, noting that this would keep better records of market transactions.
“We first detected this scheme in 2019, but it stopped. They resumed but [they] were more brazen [this time],” Magalong said.
He said a trader, for instance, would receive a receipt indicating that he paid P3,000 but the receipt submitted to the treasury showed the payment amounted to only P120.
“Or there was a payment of P6,000 but the padded receipt turned over to the treasury shows payments of P4,290,” Magalong said.
Baguio vendors were unaware of the scheme and that they were made to believe that they had paid their obligations in full, Alvarez said.
Revenue collector clerks Noel Flora, Benjie Chocyogen, Randy Ricaña, and Gerald Rimando are facing multiple counts of malversation through falsification of public documents and falsification by a public official in the complaint filed before Prosecutor Conrado Catral Jr. by Police Col. Glen Lonogan, Baguio police director.
A fifth employee, Jonathan Lubina, was included in the complaint as an accomplice, for being “remiss in his duty and [for] repeatedly signing falsified reports, thus making him an accessory to the crime.” These employees have yet to issue statements on the allegations.
Magalong said four more employees would be charged next week.
The city government, he said, is also investigating other illicit transactions inside the market, including illegal subcontracting or the sale of market stall leases. Market leases are secured through a bidding process.
The public market was one of the first institutions put up by the American colonial government after it built and chartered Baguio City in 1909. It is the subject of a modernization plan as part of Baguio’s redevelopment.