RETURN P43.95M

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10:22 PM February 15th, 2017

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By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Inquirer, February 15th, 2017 10:22 PM
 NOW GONE. Scavengers pass through a column of the controversial lampposts installed along the sidewalk of the streets in North Reclamation Area, Mandaue City in this photo taken on Feb. 4, 2009. The lampposts have since disappeared. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

NOW GONE. Scavengers pass through a column of the controversial lampposts installed along the sidewalk of the streets in North Reclamation Area, Mandaue City in this photo taken on Feb. 4, 2009. The lampposts have since disappeared. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

A controversy of the past continues to haunt government officers in Cebu.

The Commission on Audit (COA) has ordered officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Central Visayas (DPWH-7) to return the P43.95 million they paid to the contractor of the allegedly overpriced lampposts installed in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in 2007.

In a two-page decision, state auditors affirmed the disallowance of the partial payment already made to Gampik Construction and Development Inc., saying that the street-lighting project was illegal since it did not go through public bidding.

COA also directed its Prosecution and Litigation Office to refer the case to the Office of the Ombudsman for possible charges against the persons responsible for the controversial procurement of lampposts for the two cities.

The DPWH-7 skipped public bidding and entered into contracts on September 2006 in preparation for the Asean Summit in January 2007. The total cost of the contracts was P54.94 million — about three times higher than COA’s evaluated cost of P19.38 million. The P43.95 million represented the advance payment received by Gampik.

At least 660 of the total 1,800 decorative lampposts were installed in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue.

“At the outset, this commission holds that there was a clear violation as the project did not undergo the required public bidding. It is worthy to note that the lack of public bidding may be considered by this commission as the ground for the disallowance of the entire amount stated in the contracts,” said the decision signed by COA chairperson Michael Aguinaldo, and commissioners Jose Fabia and Isabel Agito.

The decision was dated Dec. 29, 2016, a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday.

Anomalous

Although officials cited the lack of time in foregoing public bidding, the COA said it still did not justify the resort to negotiated procurement. The mode, it said, is allowed only in times of emergencies where there is imminent danger.

“The hosting of the Asean Summit is not a disaster. Since there is no calamity at the time the projects were implemented, there is no danger to speak of,” the COA commissioners said.

They also cited the failure of DPWH-7 officials to post the notice of negotiated contracts at the Government Electronic Procurement System (G-EPS) website — a requirement under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

An audit report described as “bloated and excessive” the contract cost agreed upon by DPWH-7 and Gampik Construction and Development Inc. as compared to the evaluated cost made by COA, resulting to an “overpayment” of P24.569 million.

’Not my case’

DPWH-7 Director Ador Canlas begged off from issuing any statement to the media, saying he is not privy to the details of the case and that the DPWH officials involved in the case are no longer with the department.

Public Works and Highways Regional Director Ador Canlas answers questions during a June 2014 forum in Cebu City.

Public Works and Highways Regional Director Ador Canlas answers questions during a June 2014 forum in Cebu City.

“Well, I am not part of that case. I wasn’t the regional director at that time when the procurement was made. Hence, I’d rather not comment on that,” he told Cebu Daily News.

He said he also has no idea on how the payment will be done.

“I don’t know yet whether it will be DPWH-7 or the individual respondents who pay the contractor. Basta whatever the decision says, that should be respected,” Canlas said.

Lawyer Ma. Corazon Naraja, spokesperson of the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas, also refused to interpret COA’s ruling as to who should pay the government.

“COA has the competence and expertise to answer that. It’s their decision to disallow the disbursement,” she said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.

Cebu Daily News tried but failed to get a statement from lawyer Joey Luis Wee, the counsel of the DPWH-7 officials who were linked to the controversy.

Wee first responded in a text message to Cebu Daily News, asking what issue he would comment on.

When informed about the COA ruling, he did not respond. Cebu Daily News contacted him but he didn’t answer the calls.

Trial continues

At present, graft cases are pending before the Sandiganbayan against nine DPWH officials, two private contractors, and local government officials for the purchase of 1,800 China-made lampposts believed to be overpriced.

Both former mayors Thadeo Ouano of Mandaue City and Arturo Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City were impleaded in the lamppost scandal by the Ombudsman.

The Sandiganbayan dropped the lone case against Radaza in 2013.

Ouano was named in two cases. One case against him was dismissed in 2011, while the remaining case was junked after the former Mandaue City mayor passed away in February last year.

All respondents in the lamppost cases were earlier found guilty of grave misconduct by the Ombudsman-Visayas and were ordered dismissed from public service.

Ouano and Radaza, however, escaped the penalty because they were reelected.

Under the Aguinaldo Doctrine, reelection to office condones administrative liability for misconduct done during a previous term. However, criminal liability cannot be erased.

It was only in 2015 when the controversial doctrine was junked by the Supreme Court.

RADAZA

RADAZA

Aside from the two local officials, also impleaded in the charges were former DPWH-7 regional director Robert Lala and officers Gloria Dindin, Marlina Alvizo, Pureza Fernandez, Cresencio Bagolor, Augustinito Hermoso, Luis Galang, and Restitutu Diano, and Buenaventura Pajo.
In March 2007, the Ombudsman investigated the acquisition of decorative lampposts installed along the streets of the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu.

Overpriced

The Ombudsman-Visayas said a comparison of the costs of the 1,800 lampposts as indicated in the Programs of Work and Estimates (POWE) prepared by Mandaue City and reflected in the importation documents showed the equipment were overpriced by nearly 10 times their actual cost.

The Lapu-Lapu City POWE covering the costs of the lampposts was practically the same with Mandaue City.

The POWE prepared by the DPWH covered the procurement and installation of the lampposts in Cebu City and some parts of Lapu-Lapu City.

The DPWH then under secretary Hermogenes Ebdane spearheaded the acquisition of the China-made lampposts.

The funds used and/or allocated for the purchase were reportedly taken from the Motor Vehicle Users Charge Fund.

The local chief executives of the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu were given a chance to choose the design of the lampposts to be installed in their respective areas.

The anti-graft office said officials of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu prepared the corresponding POWE for the lampposts.

For the lampposts installed in Cebu City, the POWE was prepared by the DPWH-7 officials since Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña refused to sign any POWE.

The two contractors for the project were Fabmik Construction and Equipment Co. Inc., and Gampik Construction and Development Inc.

COA issued a ruling on the appeal of Gampik Construction and Development Inc. to allow the full payment from DPWH for the installation of streets lamps in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue.

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