May 22, 2024

The Insider News

Direct from the source

COA holds mayor liable for fire that destroyed municipal hall

FOR failing to insure the municipal building with the General Insurance Fund under the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), a former mayor of San Antonio, Nueva Ecija been held liable by the Commission on Audit for the damage caused by the 2013 fire amounting to P21.99 million.

In a decision signed by former COA chairperson Rizalina Justol and Commissioners Roland Pondoc and Mario Lipana, the commission held that Mayor Arvin C. Salonga was negligent for not insuring the municipal hall during his term.

The fire broke out just past midnight of June 8, 2013 at the upper floor of the two-level town hall, 22 days before the end of Salonga’s term after losing in the previous month’s election to then mayor-elect Antonio Lustre.

The municipal accountant prepared a list of all local government assets destroyed by the fire and reported a total cost of P21,992,771.99.

Auditors noted that Salonga filed a request for relief from property accountability only on July 21, 2016 or more than three years after the fire. By that time, he has been re-elected mayor.

The Bureau of Fire Protection also filed a criminal complaint for arson against Salonga before the Office of the Ombudsman but this was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Salonga said the old municipal building was no longer insured because it was a very old structure even if it underwent renovations and rehabilitations under past administrations before his time.

The COA however said Salonga is liable for the damage because it was his responsibility as sitting mayor at the time to protect government properties by making sure that they are under insurance coverage as required by RA 656 that created the Property Insurance Fund under the GSIS.

“[Salonga] cannot use the reason that he was no longer the mayor then because the incident transpired on June 8, 2013 when he was still holding such position in the municipality. He had 22 days left to file the notice of loss prior to the end of his term as mayor on June 30, 2013,” the COA said.

Likewise, he was found negligent for “failure to observe that degree of care, precaution, and vigilance which the circumstances justly demand.”

According to the COA, the lack of insurance coverage was the proximate cause for the loss or damage to the government.

“Mayor Salonga is liable as the Chief Executive for his negligence to insure the property during his term. His failure to do so deprived the municipality of the value and use of the municipal building,” the commission said.

Despite the dismissal of the complaint against him by the Ombudsman, the mayor was still held liable for the cost of the loss.

“While it is not certain that Mayor Salonga has caused the burning of the building, his civil liability, as discussed earlier, remains as the burnt properties were part of his accountability,” the COA added.