THE ugly past of the bungled P49 million rural telephone project in Cagayan de Oro seems to be haunting the Emano administration endlessly. The latest trouble: A government agency found that the local government had tapped a phony contractor that neither had the capability nor the permit to undertake the project at all.

Critics immediately pounced on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ruling—released in August last year but only made public this week—which reveals that the Supplier Contractor and Networking Telecommunications (Scantel) had brazenly carried out the project while at the same time disregarding telecommunications regulations.

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“The NTC decision validates the long-held suspicion that millions of public money went to waste—or shall I say, went straight to the pockets of the officials who initiated the project,” said Councilor Roger Abaday of the minority bloc.

The decision stemmed from a case filed by NTC-Northern Mindanao Director Teodoro Buenavista before the telecommunications agency in 2008, accusing the Manila-based Scantel of breaking several laws when it undertook the Barangay Rural Telephone System in 2003.

Among others, Scantel was found liable for:

- Executing the phone project without securing NTC accreditation as telecom/radio communications supplier;

- Illegal importation of telecommunications equipment;

- Illegal installation of radio communication devices;

- Illegal operation of radio communication equipment.

The NTC findings show that the project’s brainchild, then mayor and now Vice Mayor Vicente Emano, had been remiss “in securing that every centavo spent from public money should benefit the masses,” said opposition Councilor Zaldy Ocon, one of the staunchest critics of the former mayor.

The Emano administration initiated the telephone project in 2003, with the goal of connecting at least 17 hinterland barangays to the rest of Cagayan de Oro.

Scantel had already been paid P31 million from the total project cost but up to now, the company has yet to make the telephone project fully operational.

On Tuesday, Councilor Aaron Neri reported that the telephone units of at least six recipient barangays have remained defective.

Complaints on Scantel’s defective phones have been around even before Emano exited from office in 2007 due to term limits.

In 2008, Mayor Constantino Jaraula threatened to have Scantel brought to courts if it can’t complete the project within a given deadline. The mayor then relented on a second deadline when Scantel failed to make it.

It has almost been two years since Mayor Jaraula issued the ultimatum but no charges have been brought against the company.

Complaints by the project recipients pointing to substandard materials used by the company, however, have continued.

On top of this, state auditors have earlier reported that because the telephone project had started without complying the necessary technical requirements, the contractors failed to anticipate that some of the recipient villages are beyond reach of signal transmitters.

On several reports beginning 2005, the Commission on Audit has repeatedly reminded the local government that, “The prime consideration of the government for entering into a contract is the completion of the infrastructure within a stipulated period. Accordingly, contracting parties are bound to adhere faithfully to the agreed terms and conditions of the contract.”

It said that running publicly funded projects without regard to proper procurement procedures violates the intent of the Constitution. (Nicole Managbanag/DVA)