Ombud drops case vs ex-mayor, 8 others in asphalt deal

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Ombud drops case vs ex-mayor, 8 others in asphalt deal

Post by Guest on Tue Mar 22, 2011 8:14 am

CEBU CITY – Fourteen years later, the ombudsman’s office dismissed a charge against former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia and eight others, in connection with the purchase of an asphalt batching plant.

Government auditors filed the case over the acquisition of the plant, which cost P28.672 million in 1997, but an anti-graft prosecutor said no evidence was presented that the respondents violated the law.

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“It is presumed under the law that such purchase was done in the regular course of things,” said Cynthia Maturan-Sibi, in a 54-page resolution.

“And since there is no substantial proof that the contrary is true, then such presumption prevails,” Sibi said. The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas released the resolution last week.

Garcia, asked about the resolution, said “not one case prevailed” in the 52 cases filed against him. Around 50 have been dismissed, he said.

He recalled that towards the end of his second term as mayor of Cebu City (1998-2001), former mayor Tomas Osmeña engineered the filing of different cases against him, mostly on alleged anti-graft law violations.

“Those were just politically inspired cases. In fact, about 90 to 95 percent have been dismissed, while the rest are in the process of getting dismissed,” Garcia said.

This recently dismissed case stemmed from the complaint former state auditors Cecilia Chan and Quirina Paglinawan filed against Garcia and his secretary, Melchor Tormis, two former city councilors, three City Hall officials and two officers of a state-run bank.

The other respondents were former city councilors Laurito Malinao and Rodolfo Cabrera, City Hall Budget Officer Nelfa Briones, former city accountant Edna Jaca, former city treasurer Eustaquio Cesa; and Ma. Teresa Chan and Quirubin Blanco, vice president and assistant manager of the Philippine National Bank (PNB) Cebu branch, respectively.

The state auditors launched a special audit following newspaper reports on questions raised in the procurement of an asphalt batching plant from Linnhoff Engineering PTE Ltd. of Singapore.

On September 29, 1997, the Cebu City Council passed a resolution authorizing then mayor Garcia to “enter into and open a letter of credit, for and in behalf of the city, with the PNB amounting to $795, 000 “for the importation of Linnhoff drum mix asphalt model 60S from Linnhoff Engineering PTE Ltd.”

Case records said that Garcia considered “exceptionally urgent” the batching plant’s purchase because, at that time, residents who lived near the old batching plant in the North Reclamation Area complained of pollution.

State auditors questioned the resolution, saying it was unnumbered and undated.

The resolution, the auditors said, was prepared after the purchase request was made and issued, as shown in the statement on a price variance of P4.822 million.

The state auditors said the authority given to the late councilor Malinao was not among the mandated functions of the local awards committee.

Although funds were appropriated for the purchase of the batching plant, the auditors said the request of allotment (ROA) drawn on October 24, 1997 showed the appropriated amount certified by the budget officer, accountant and treasurer was only P23.850 million.

The amount in the purchase order was P28,672,576.

The auditors said the city did not show proof that the price was “fair and advantageous” to the government.

In his counter-affidavit, Garcia said no law was violated when City Hall acquired the batching plant.

In fact, the City benefited from the use of the batching plant and there was nothing in the law that barred the mayor’s office from recommending the purchase of the equipment.

Citing Section 360 of the Local Government Code, Garcia explained that the certifications by the budget officer, accountant and treasurer were indicated in the request of obligation of allotment.

He considered “irrelevant” the issue that the government auditors raised on the supposed lack of a public bidding in the transaction. The former mayor had said no public bidding was done, primarily because no batching plant was available in the country at that time.

The eight other respondents also submitted their counter-affidavits and flatly denied there were irregularities in the transaction.

The City bought the batching plant from Linnhoff since, at that time, no other company in the country was manufacturing or distributing the equipment, Sibi said.

Benson Koh, managing director of Linnhoff, certified that their company had no authorized dealer in the Philippines.

“Respondents, especially Garcia, are presumed by the law to have taken into account the interest of the Cebu City Government when they chose Linnhoff…there was no manufacturer of asphalt plant…offering a lower price so there could not be proof that such price was too much or too high,” the ombudsman’s resolution said.

While the deal may not be “perfectly clean of any procedural lapses,” Sibi said: “We are a government of laws and not of men, and among such principles of law is the necessity to qualify to a certain quantum of evidence before an accused could be prosecuted or convicted and that is applicable to the case on hand.”

When asked to comment about the ombudsman’s resolution, Congressman Osmeña (Cebu City, south district), said, “It was so long ago that I don’t remember the specific irregularities.”

One detail he remembered was that 22,000 tons of asphalt, made in the batching plant, were liquidated as having been used in covering potholes in Cebu City.

Half a ton of asphalt is normally needed for a one-square-meter pothole. “We can’t possibly have 44,000 potholes in Cebu,” said Osmeña.

At the time of the purchase in 1997, Garcia and Osmeña were still political allies. They ran against each other for the first time in 2001. (GMD/JGA/Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 14, 2011.

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