Ex-health secretary indicted for graft over R1MC project
(Updated) Former health secretary Enrique Ona and two others were indicted by the Ombudsman for graft over the allegedly anomalous procurement of the P392.2-million modernization program of the Region 1 Medical Center (R1MC).
In a statement on Monday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales found probable cause to charge Ona, former undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and former assistant secretary Nicolas Lutero III with graft or violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or Republic Act 3019.
Lutero is now Director IV of the Office for Health Regulation in the Department of Health (DOH).
They were also found guilty of the administrative offense of grave misconduct and were thus dismissed from service, perpetually disqualified from public office and forfeited their retirement benefits. In case of separation from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to respondents’ one-year salary.
The Ombudsman said Ona and the others gave undue advantage to Specified Contractors & Development Inc. (SCDI) which lost the bidding for the modernization of R1MC.
According to the Ombudsman’s investigation, SCDI and the lowest bidder EM Cuerpo Inc. were post-disqualified for failure to comply with the agency’s detailed estimate requirements in the bidding for the P392.2-million R1MC modernization program implemented by the DOH in 2012.
This compelled the SCDI as the second lowest bidder to file a motion for reconsideration that was denied by the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC).
The third lowest bidder Northern Builders Inc. was awarded the contract in Aug. 2013. SCDI did not file a protest then as provided for under the Government Procurement Reform Act or Republic Act 9184.
However, that month, SCDI instead filed a letter of complaint before the Office of the President alleging anomalies in the procurement.
Ona thus requested Lutero to conduct a fact-finding investigation.
In Sept. 2013, Ona instructed R1MC chief Dr. Joseph Rolando Mejia to give an update on the project.
In a letter dated Sept. 16, 2013, then undersecretary Herbosa wrote to Mejia for him to nullify or set aside the issuance of the Notice of Award to winning bidder Northern Builders and continue with the post-qualification of SCDI.
On Sept. 30, Ona issued a Cease and Desist Order to Mejia pending investigation of the SCDI complaint.
Three months later, the health department held a rebidding of the project.
In her resolution, Morales said the decision by the bids and awards committee to award the contract to Northern Builders should have become final and executory when SCDI failed to file a protest or appeal.
Thus, Ona could no longer intervene and issue a cease and desist order, Morales said.
“While Ona had the power to investigate any infractions or violations committed by its employees including the members of the SBAC, this does not mean that he could simply invalidate and declare null and void the proceedings and decisions made by the SBAC without observing the provisions of R.A. No. 9184,” Morales said.
Morales said her office was convinced that Ona, Lutero and Herbosa conspired to give unwarranted benefit to SCDI in the bidding for the R1MC project.
The respondents are given a chance to file their motions for reconsideration which if denied by the Ombudsman would signal the official filing of charges against them before the Sandiganbayan.
Ona was indicted for graft since his resignation in December 2014 when he lost the trust of then President Benigno Aquino III who, months earlier, asked Ona to go on leave for him to explain the purchase of P800 million Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) instead of the PVC 13, which was recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ona was also in hot water for authorizing the clinical trial of a malaria breakthrough drug in state hospitals which was not recommended by the WHO and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. RAM/rga
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