Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has approved the formal investigation of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and six Capitol officials for allegedly giving undue advantage to a private contractor for undertaking extra work to complete the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC).
The CICC in Mandaue City was built at a cost of over P800 million to be used as a venue of the ASEAN Summit in January 2007.
The contractor was able to collect payment for P263.2 million after suing the Capitol for the additional work.
The Ombudsman, in its ruling, said there was no proof shown that the construction of the CICC was overpriced or that a crime of plunder was committed as complained by business Cris Saavedra.
However, the Ombudsman said the governor allowed WT Construction Inc. to handle “site development, structural, architectural, plumbing, and electrical work without a contract, the approved appropriation ordinance and certification as to the availability of funds.”
Garcia and six other Capitol officials will be investigated for violating section 3, paragraph e of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Paragraph 3 (e) refers to “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference” through “manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”
The Garcia administration has repeatedly defended the CICC, her centerpiece project, against criticism that the edifice was overpriced and that its implementation in eight months was done in a rush.
The Ombudsman upheld findings of a three-member Cebu panel of graft investigation and prosecution officers Roderick Blazo, Elmer Gutierrez, and Jocelyn Dacumos who were assigned to handle the fact-finding stage.
Ombudsman Carpio-Morales upheld their findings and upgraded the inquiry from fact-finding to a formal criminal and administrative investigation.
The team said the transaction for the additional work on the CICC was “in violation of the constitutional provision that no money shall be paid out of the treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation by law, and to protect as well the government treasury against incurring of excessive liabilities for which no provision is made.”
The panel said the governor and other officials should also be investigated for misconduct and neglect of duty.
Others facing investgation are the Bids and Awards Committee chairman Eduardo Habin, Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla, Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre, Budget Officer Emmy Gingoyon, BAC members Ernesto Biernes, Engr. Euly Pelayre.
They will be investigated for allowing WT Construction to pursue the extra works without complying with requirements of bidding procedures under Republic Act 9184.
Cebu investigators said they “cannot establish evidence to show that the procurement in the construction of CICC is overpriced.” The Commission on Audit, they said, found all procurement for the CICC is reasonable.
In 2009, the CICC case was endorsed to the Manila central office after Cebu investigators and their superior couldn’t agree on their findings.
Assistant Ombudsman Virginia Palanca-Santiago and staff investigators found basis to conduct a formal investigation. However, their boss Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol disapproved of the findings and chose to dismiss the chages that stemmed from the complaint filed by Saavedra.
In Manila, Tanodbayan Morales affirmed the findings of Santiago and her staff investigators, according to a copy obtained by Cebu Daily News.
A formal investigation gives Governor Garcia and other respondents a chance to respond and submit counter-affidavits to refute the allegations.
It’s up to the Ombudsman to elevate the case to the Sandigabayan or dismiss it.
WT Construction won the bidding in 2006 for work on the CICC’s foundation as well as phase 2 for the superstructure.
It was again hired to undertake additional work to catch up with the deadline to finish the edifce in time for the ASEAN Summit in January 2007.
The private contractor sued the Capitol in January 2008 to collect on its fees for the extra work and won the lawsuit.
The CICC at the Mandaue Reclamation Area was one of the key venues for the summit, which was scheduled in December 2006 then moved to January 2007 due to the threat of a typhoon. Its construction was completed in a record time of eight months.
The Regional Trial Court (RTC) ordered the Province of Cebu to pay the contractor P263.2 milion bringing the total cost of the CICC to about P836 million.
Governor Garcia pegged the total cost of her centerpiece project at P573.3 million during her presentation before officials of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters sa Pilipinas in Cebu and critic broadcaster Leo Lastimosa but the figure at the time didn’t yet include the cost of extra work which was the subject of a court suit.