Muntinlupa mayor asked to reply to graft raps

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09:38 PM January 23rd, 2013

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January 23rd, 2013 09:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines—The mayor of Muntinlupa  and 34 other persons have been asked by the Ombudsman to answer allegations of a multimillion “ghost purchase” and seven “ghost projects” by the city government in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012.

In a directive from the Office of the Ombudsman orders received by city hall officials this month, Mayor Aldrin San Pedro and Vice Mayor Artemio Simundac, among many others, were directed to file their counteraffidavits within 10 days as the preliminary investigation into the graft complaints were set to begin.

The directive, issued by Assistant Ombudsman Marilou B. Ancheta-Mejica on Dec. 19, was an offshoot of a 62-page complaint filed by the Ombudsman’s field investigation office, represented by Ronald Allan Ramos, in September last year.

The complaint was based on an exposé made by former city Bids and Awards Committee secretariat head Abel Sumabat in May last year of an alleged P9,820,000 ghost procurement by the city government of coco lumber in 2007 and 2008, and seven ghost projects entered into by the city government in 2011 and 2012 amounting to a total of P8, 225, 917.

Sumabat alleged that the city government “converted” the projects into cash. In a phone interview, he explained that the respondents would draw up papers for projects and purchases, withdraw a budget for it, then use dummy suppliers who would only get a cut then return the encashed payments to city officials.

Also included as respondents in the complaint were 13 former and incumbent councilors, and 20 others who are city officials, members of the city BAC and Technical Working Group, and owners of private suppliers Nosotros Trading, Antor General Merchandise, Rey and Grace General Trading and Merilla General Merchandise.

The Ombudsman complaint asked that the respondents be charged criminally with graft, direct bribery, violation of the Government Procurement Act, and falsification by public officers; and the public officials to be also charged administratively for grave misconduct, falsification of public documents and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

It also asked that the public respondents be placed under preventive suspension while the Ombudsman investigation was underway.

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer last week, Mayor Aldrin San Pedro said he received the notices for his counteraffidavit a week prior, but said he left it to his lawyer, and fellow respondent Michael Racelis of the city BAC, to respond to the Ombudsman orders.

San Pedro said he was not sure if the counteraffidavit has been filed, but the mayor shrugged off the recent complaint as “politicking,” in light of the upcoming May elections, and with two administrative complaints against him dismissed last month.

“The rumor was I was going to be preventively suspended. Instead, complaints against me were dismissed,” San Pedro said.

“Just because there’s a complaint doesn’t mean you’re guilty. The Ombudsman accepts all [complaint] filings. But the perception is if there is a case against you in the Ombudsman, you’re guilty. I actually want the investigation to be concluded quickly so we know who’s really telling the truth,” the mayor said.

On the alleged ghost projects, San Pedro simply said, “All their allegations are properly answered,” claiming that the Department of Interior and Local Government had once issued a report validating the existence of the projects.

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