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Friday, February 22, 2013
THE Office of the Ombudsman has directed Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and six Capitol officials to answer the formal criminal and administrative cases related to additional work on the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC).
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol confirmed yesterday receiving an order from the anti-graft body’s central office giving Garcia and the other respondents 10 days to submit their counter-affidavit and other evidence to disprove the charges.
“Kailangan silang magpaliwanag (They need to explain) and we are ready to listen. They will be given a chance to answer the allegations,” Apostol told reporters in an interview.
Apostol said the Ombudsman's Preliminary Investigation and Administrative Bureau will conduct the investigation.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, in a July 31, 2012 final evaluation report, approved the filing of formal cases against Garcia and six other Capitol officials for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
But Christina Garcia-Frasco, daughter and lawyer of Governor Garcia, said the Commission on Audit (COA) had declared the construction of the CICC above board.
She said the graft complaint related to the CICC was also dismissed by Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol in 2010.
“We are surprised that a case that was dismissed has been revived, (but) this seems to be the trend this political season,” Frasco said.
Governor Garcia was suspended by Malacañang for six months for grave abuse of authority in relation to a complaint filed by the late vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr., who accused the former of taking over his functions.
In the CICC case, the ombudsman recommended the filing of two counts of graft cases and two counts of misconduct and neglect of duty against the respondents.
The other respondents are Provincial Administrator Eduardo Habin, then bids and awards committee (BAC) chair; Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla, who served as BAC vice chair; and BAC members Roy Salubre, Emme Gingoyon, engineers Ernesto Biernes and Eulogio Pelayre.
The anti-graft office said the respondents should answer the allegations that they gave private contractor WT Construction Inc. unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the construction of the CICC.
Frasco had questioned what Morales approved.
The final evaluation report to conduct a formal investigation against Garcia and six others was earlier disapproved by Apostol but reversed on July 31, 2012 by Morales.
In the final evaluation report, the word “approved” was crossed out above Apostol’s name and signature. Above Ombudsman Morales’s signature appears this handwritten note: “This 22-page final evaluation report is approved.”
The report pointed out, among others, that “repackaging of the works for the superstructure is splitting of a single project, which is a clear violation of the Procurement Law.”
WT Construction Inc. supplied and installed the structural steel components of the CICC, and also handled the site development and architectural, structural, plumbing and electrical works.
The final evaluation report also stated that the Philippine Contractors’ Accreditation Board license of WT classifies it as a “general engineering” provider. It is also considered a provider of “general building, plumbing, sanitary works and electrical work.”
“There is nothing in the records that would show that WT Construction is a supplier of goods,” the report stated.
Other parts of CICC project like elevators and escalators; curtain wall glass; generator set; closed-circuit television, public address, background music and structured cabling system; and the installation of steel gates and fences were awarded to different suppliers.
“The act of the provincial governor in allowing WT Construction to construct the site development, structural, architectural, plumbing, electrical work without contract and other necessary documents is penalized under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” the final evaluation reported read.
Earlier, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the lower court’s ruling directing the Cebu Provincial Government to pay WT Construction P257.4 million for additional work done on the CICC.
The CA denied the appeal filed by Capitol, which questioned the order of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) finding them liable to pay WT Construction Inc. (WTCI) for the extra construction cost.
On May 20, 2009, Judge Ester Veloso ordered Capitol to pay WTCI P263,263,261.41 for the site development, structural, architectural, plumbing and electrical work done by the contractor.
Veloso ruled that an “oral contract” was perfected between WTCI and Capitol for the additional works. Denying payment to WTCI would be tantamount to “unjust enrichment” on Capitol’s part, the judge said.
The Province filed a motion for reconsideration and contested the awarded amount. Veloso partially granted Capitol’s appeal and reduced the liability from P263,263,261.41 to P257,413,911.73.
In the decision, the appeals court upheld with modification the trial court’s ruling, saying the awards were “definitely justified.”
The CA reduced legal interest per year from 12 percent to six percent, to be computed from Jan. 22, 2008 until full payment is made.
“Like all the other cases that have been filed against Governor Garcia, we are confident that we will be able to defend this because there was nothing illegal in the construction of the CICC,” Frasco told Sun.Star Cebu.
She said they have yet to receive a copy of the complaint and the Ombudsman’s order.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 22, 2013.