LAOAG CITY, June 19—The city government of Laoag may turn financially poorer by multi-million pesos as the Commission on Audit (COA) dropped a bombshell — a whopping P90 million public fund was missing from the city coffer under the Office of the City Treasurer here.

A COA initial finding showed that at first the amount of P85 million city fund was allegedly missing from the city coffer. On further scrutiny, probers alleged that the missing fund rose to P90 million as of Friday, June 17, latest report said.

Earlier, a regional probe team from the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) arrived here. The team, assisted by provincial treasurer Josephine Calajate, stepped up a discreet investigation to dig deeper into the fund mess.

City Mayor Chevylle V. Farinas told the media that based on the COA finding the City Treasurer’s Office had complete records of the city fund for time deposits and some savings account deposits in several banks here.

However when verified, all the bank deposit slips and other pertaining documents turned out to have been allegedly falsified, the mayor said.

As this developed, Bureau of Immigration and Deportation officials reported that city treasurer Elena Asuncion, tagged as the case’s alleged prime suspect, had already flown to Hawaii on Tuesday, June 14 aboard a Philippine Airlines plane.
City legal officer Marlon Wayne Manuel said they tried to secure a hold-departure order against her at the Immigration office but the subject person had already slipped away from the country.

Report said Ms. Asuncion had her last public appearance here together with local government officials, department heads and employees during the Independence Day rites held at the provincial capitol ground in Laoag City on June 12.

The following day June 13, Monday she did not report for work anymore, City Hall insiders said.

As the city fund brouhaha broke out, Mayor Farinas immediately pulled out the seven employees under the treasury cash division and reassigned them at the city commercial complex (city market) pending investigation.

Their transfer doesn’t mean that they have direct knowledge and participation in the anomaly, the mayor clarified.

Prior to their transfer, City administrator Perry Martinez said that the concerned seven employees were asked to surrender all pertinent documents and papers for custody and scrutiny by the joint COA and BLGF probe team.

For the meantime in the absence of an acting city treasurer, nobody in the treasury office is allowed to sign documents and disburse money from the city coffer, Martinez added.

As the issue about the irregularities hogged news headlines and social media, the local press focused interest on the lifestyle of the controversial city treasurer Elena Asuncion.

Result of the lifestyle check was not yet known at press time. #