MAYOR Benjamin Magalong said that a cabal in his own City Treasury Office has been uncovered to have defrauded the city of at least P50 million in market arrival fees or the so-called kwartais.
Magalong said five employees have been charged with malversation and said that more (cabbage) heads will roll.
Last July 20, Magalong said the five were falsifying or padding receipts of collections from arrival fees or ‘kwartais’ at the Baguio City Market. The kwartais are collected for unloading and delivering goods that are sold in the market.
He said that the scam was discovered by market superintendent Marieta Alvarez after discovering discrepancies between recorded earnings and the original receipts kept in the city archives. The receipts were padded to hide the falsification.
Although the review was made from the accounts only in 2020, Magalong said that the scheme had been ongoing earlier.
The mayor said a similar case was filed three weeks earlier against the five employees and another case is being prepared against four more collectors as investigations go high gear to ferret out the truth.
As this developed, the mayor informed that the city has launched another investigation – this time on the illegal transactions inside the market particularly on the sub-leasing of market stalls which is prohibited under the city’s Tax Ordinance.
“Halimbawa, ang siningil nila sa merchant ay P4,000 pero ang naka-reflect sa duplicate copy ng resibo na isusumete sa City Treasury ay P70 lang, ibinulsa na nila yung iba (For example, a merchant would be asked to pay P4,000 but in the duplicate copy of the receipt to be submitted to the City Treasury only P70 would be written, the rest would then be pocketed),” Magalong said.
The mayor said the probe started earlier in May when one merchant brought his receipt and asked for verification of the fees paid.
A review of the duplicate receipts was conducted by the City Treasury Office through Alvarez as the head of the market office and discovered discrepancies in the amount indicated in the original receipts from the duplicate copies.
This prompted the mayor to order a review of all duplicate receipts covering the year 2020 until June 2022 which yielded similar findings.
The mayor said that based on the findings, it can be assumed that the city government had lost up to P50 million in total revenues from the arrival fees alone.
“Matagal na ito na nangyayari sa public market at tuloy-tuloy ang ating imbestigasyon kahit pa sa mga nagretire na at dating empleyado. Sigurado ako lalabas lahat ng ebidensya at hindi sila makakatakbo. Sana makasuhan silang lahat at makulong sa dami ng ninakaw nilang pera ng gobyerno (This has been going on for years at the market so we will be relentless in our investigation not only of the present employees but those who have either resigned or retired. We hope all those guilty will be sued and jailed considering the money they stole),” Magalong said.
At least 20 employees are said to be involved with the racket said to have been happening as early as 2010.
The mayor appealed to market vendors for cooperation in the ongoing investigations on anomalies involving market fees.
In a letter dated July 20, 2022, the mayor asked merchants to come forward and submit available copies of official receipts for their arrival fees or “kwartais” covering the period January 2020 to the present.
“Your cooperation is very much needed to ferret out the truth in this ongoing investigation. If proven true, this practice of anomalous filling-out of Accountable Forms (AF) 51 by revenue collectors has been depriving the city government of the collection of lawful fees that could have been used for public service,” the mayor said.
He said the ORs from the vendors will enable the city government to compare the original with the duplicate or triplicate copies and establish the integrity of the amounts collected.
OR copies may be submitted to the Baguio City Police Office with the assurance that “any information gathered from (the vendors) will be treated with confidentiality.”
The mayor said investigations have so far revealed that the employees manipulated the amounts reflected in the duplicate and triplicate copies of the receipts being submitted to the city treasury to make it appear that they collected lower fees than the actual amount collected reflected in the original OR with the excess amounts not remitted to the city coffers.
As a result of the investigation, a total of seven personnel of the market division under the City Treasury Office have so far been charged with malversation through falsification of public documents and falsification.
The mayor said more cases are expected to be filed as investigations continue in the coming days. – Aileen P. Refuerzo and Frank Cimatu