AN OFFICIAL of the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday clarified they have not yet lost that Asean Summit lamppost-related anti-graft case filed with the Third Division of the Sandiganbayan.

Assistant Ombudsman Virginia Palanca-Santiago said the case, one of seven filed, was simply “returned.” The Sandiganbayan wants the anti-graft office to hold another round of preliminary investigation.

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“It was not on the merits and was done without prejudice to a refiling,” Santiago said of the case that was previously withdrawn but filed again after a reinvestigation.

She explained that the justices, Francisco Villaruz, Efren de la Cruz and Alex Quiroz, have taken note that the case originally charged the respondents with entering into a contract that is “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

This is penalized under Section 3(g) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or Republic Act 3019.

Change

However, when the case was re-filed following a reinvestigation, the anti-graft office charged the respondents with violating Sec. 3(e), which penalizes acts that cause undue injury to the government.

This was because the reinvestigation found facts that were not present during the original preliminary investigation, like the actual cost of the decorative lampposts.

This, in turn, allowed the anti-graft office to compare the actual value and its contract price, calculating to the last centavo just how much money the government allegedly lost in the multi-million-peso deal.

Santiago said the Sandiganbayan seems to want them to conduct another preliminary investigation and direct the respondents to go through the whole process of submitting a counter-affidavit to the new charge.

She hinted that this is “not usual.”

“Just because the charge is not the same does not mean a new preliminary investigation has to be conducted,” she said.

But, she said, finding a solution is all up to the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which is handling the case.

She stressed, though, that different justices view things in different ways so there are bound to be differences in the outcome of the seven lamppost cases distributed among the five Sandiganbayan divisions.

The lamppost case involves the allegedly overpriced purchase and installation of several hundred decorative lampposts from China for Cebu’s hosting of the 12th Asean Summit in 2007.

Money lost

Based on computations by the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas, the government lost over P45 million in the lamppost deal.

Government should have paid only a total of P118,973,271 to the two suppliers in the total of four contracts signed as part of the purchase.

However, through the acquisition process facilitated by officials of the DPWH, the contract cost ballooned to P164,524,401.25.

Seven cases, impleading a total of 21 public officials, including then Mandaue City mayor Thadeo Ouano and incumbent Lapu-Lapu Mayor Arturo Radaza, were filed after an investigation that spanned several months.

The “returned” case, SB-08-CRM-0237, is just one of them and tackles contract 06H00048 between the DPWH and Gampik Construction and Development Corp., represented by contractor Gerardo Surla.

It correspondents to the supply, installation, testing and commissioning of LED bulbs, traffic signal lanterns and other traffic control devices, plus 240 decorative lampposts in Lapu-Lapu City for P35,634,401.25.

The case impleads, among others, DPWH Assistant Director Gloria Dindin Cresencio Bagolor, Pureza Fernandez, Marlina Alvizo, Atty. Agustinito Her-moso, Luis Galang, Restituto Diano, Buenaventura Pajo, Robert Lala and Surla.