CEBU CITY -- The Sandiganbayan has convicted Aloguinsan Mayor Cynthia Moreno, five town officials and two others of graft for the purchase of construction materials worth over P1 million without a public bidding in 2007.
The anti-graft court’s First Division found Moreno and her fellow respondents “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“After a judicious assessment of the testimonial and documentary evidence on record, the court finds and so holds, that the prosecution has sufficiently established that all the accused committed the offense charged,” read the 28-page decision penned by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz.
Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Rafael Lagos concurred.
Among the witnesses was a councilor, who told the court that the town could not have held the bidding for the purchase of aluminum panels last August 25, 2007, because the town hall was padlocked on that day, a Saturday.
Also convicted of graft were Municipal Budget Officer Nonela Villegas, Municipal Agricultural Officer Marilyn Flordeliza, Municipal Assessor John Lim, Municipal Engineer Orven Nengasca, Municipal Civil Registrar Pepito Manguilimotan and utility workers Gertrudes Ababon and Emilia Luz Celis.
They were sentenced to spend from six years and one month to 10 years in jail and barred from working again in government.
“This is not final and executory because we were given 15 days to file any legal remedies,” said Mayor Moreno.
She told Sun.Star Cebu, in a phone interview, that everything is being taken care of by her three lawyers.
Provincial Legal Office Chief Orvi Ortega said the mayor is still entitled to file a motion for reconsideration. And if the Sandiganbayan denies it, Moreno can go to the Supreme Court with a petition for review and certiorari.
“Maybe they found basis there in the Sandiganbayan, that is why they convicted her. It’s the triumph of justice, I suppose,” said Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III.
Moreno, in an interview aired by GMA 7’s “Balitang Bisdak,” assured her constituents she would continue to serve. “Sa katawhan sa Aloguinsan (To the people of Aloguisan), everything is okay. Padayon ta sa atong kausa, sa atong hinusang damgo (We continue to press our cause, our shared dream), our mission and our vision.”
The case stemmed from the complaint filed by former councilor Felimon Georsua Jr. against Moreno, Villegas, Flordeliza, Lim, Nengasca, Maguilimotan, Ababon, Celis, revenue collection clerk Christopher Brigoli, municipal treasurer Maricar Rosario, inspection officer Primo Abajo, casual official canvasser Lyn Tojino and Jelyn Llorando in 2007.
Flordeliza, Ababon and Lim served as members of the bids and awards committee (BAC), while Celis was the BAC secretariat. Manguilimotan and Villegas served as BAC chairman and vice chairman, respectively.
Georsua accused them of violating RA 3019 and RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
He said the accused procured aluminum composite panels from Diamond Interior Industries Corp. worth P1,190,037.50 without a public bidding, which is required under RA 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Georsua said that the Municipality paid Diamond Interior only P1,118,635.30, in view of the five percent value-added tax (P59,501.86) and one percent expanded value-added tax (P11,900) deducted from the total purchase price.
Georsua said the respondents attempted to conceal the irregularity by falsifying the certificate of canvass of other bidders to make it appear there was proper competition.
Graft investigator and prosecution officer Edsel Ensomo found probable cause to charge them with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
While the anti-graft office found no probable cause to indict the respondents for violating RA 6713, the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas, however, said the respondents may be held liable for violating Section 3 (e) of RA 3019.
Ensomo said the town resorted to direct contracting after Diamond Interior showed a certification that it was the exclusive distributor of the aluminum composite panel.
He said that what the BAC chairman and members did was a “mock bidding” because the bid documents were not used to support the payment for the purchased items.
Clearly, Ensomo said, the Invitation to Apply for Eligibility and to Bid was P980,000 and the Notice of Award was P979,237. But the disbursement voucher showed the amount paid totaled P1,190,037.50.
The anti-graft office dismissed the case against Brigoli, Rosario, Abajo, Tojino and Llorando for lack of probable cause.
During the trial, the prosecution offered eight witnesses, including Georsua. The defense, on the other hand, presented Moreno, Villegas and Celis.
Councilor Danilo Margallo testified that Moreno and the BAC members made it appear that a public bidding was done on August 25, 2007.
But Margallo said he was in the town hall on the above date and saw the front door of the municipal hall padlocked.
Likewise, Margallo said it was impossible for the respondents to hold a public bidding on August 25, 2007, a Saturday and the birthday of the mayor’s husband.
Maricar Rosario, then local treasury operations officer in Aloguinsan town, testified that Moreno had berated her for not signing the disbursement vouchers.
Rosario said she tried to explain that there was no justification because of the lack of bidding documents.
State auditor Esperanza Obatay testified that, after conducting an audit examination on the town’s financial transactions, the audit commission discovered the purchase of the aluminum composite panels neither passed through a public bidding nor through the alternative modes of procurement.
For her part, Moreno testified that she approved the program of works for the purchase of 311 sheets of aluminum composite panel for the new municipal building last January 6, 2006. She approved the purchase request more than a month later, last February 20, 2007.
Apart from Diamond Interior, Maliege G. Glass and Aluminum Center and JAH Builders also participated in the canvassing of prices last March 14, 2007.
Since Diamond Interior submitted the lowest price and a certification from Auland Panel Material that it was the exclusive distributor of aluminum composite panels, Moreno signed the purchase order last March 22, 2007.
Manguilimotan advised Moreno to conduct another bidding last August 25, 2007. The project was awarded to Diamond Interior.
The two other defense witnesses, Villegas and Celis, said Diamond Interior submitted the lowest price, compared with two other bidders.
But in the decision, the justices ruled the transactions between the Municipality and Diamond Interior were done before the supposed public bidding last August 25, 2007.
“The totality of evidence shows that the bidding...was not a competitive bidding in the real sense of the word, and as required by law,” the justices said.
The justices were also puzzled by the bidders’ estimate of 243 sheets when the town government, in the program of works, required 311 sheets.
The justices said the convicts “consciously and patently” conspired and gave Diamond Interior an unwarranted favor.
“As responsible officials of the procuring entity, the accused ought to know from the very start that they should have conducted a public bidding,” the decision said. (With Oscar C. Pineda/Sun.Star Cebu)