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17 DPWH execs face graft raps

Ombudsman finds ‘collusion’ in WB project

By Tetch Torres, Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
INQUIRER.net, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:32:00 03/26/2009

Filed Under: Infrastructure, Graft & Corruption, World bank road mess

MANILA, Philippines?Saying it uncovered an ?indication of collusion? between officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways and private contractors, the Office of the Ombudsman Wednesday recommended the filing of graft charges against 17 ranking DPWH officials for the alleged rigged bidding of a $33-million World Bank-funded road project.

The DPWH officials, which include former Secretary Florante Soriquez, current undersecretary Manuel Bonoan, and other officials involved in the bidding for Phase 1 of the National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP-1), also face charges of grave misconduct, dishonesty and neglect of duty, among others.

Malacańang welcomed the Ombudsman's recommendation to file charges against the DPWH officials.

?It?s encouraging to note that the Ombudsman has been able to come up with its findings and conclusions and actions on the controversy on the case within a relatively short time,? Secretary Gabriel Claudio, presidential political adviser, told reporters in San Juan, Batangas.

WB report

The Ombudsman?s Field Investigation Office (FIO) recommended the filing of charges against Soriquez, who approved the results of the bidding; Bonoan, who was the chair of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) for Visayas and Mindanao projects; BAC members and assistant secretaries Bashir Rasuman, Salvador Pleyto, Mocamad Raki-in Sr., Juanito Abergas and Rafael Yabut; project manager III Emerson Benitez; legal service officer-in-charge Joel Jacob and his successor Camilo Foronda; project directors Baliamen Mamainte, Lope Adriano and Mario Bandelaria; Bureau of Research and Standards director Antonio Molano Jr.; Bureau of Construction director Walter Ocampo; and BAC members Florencio Aricheta and Leonora Cuenca.

The case stemmed from a WB report that uncovered a major cartel engaged in collusive practices in the bidding for the road project. It had banned three local and four Chinese contractors due to alleged corruption.

The road project was divided into two components: The rehabilitation of the Surigao-Davao Coastal Road, with an initial approved budget of more than P967 million and the Kabankalan-Basay/San Enrique-Vallehermoso Road with an initial approved budget of P1.013 billion.

In all the bidding processes, the involved officials allegedly declared as eligible the companies which gave bids between P200 million and P600 million which were above the approved budget for the contracts. They also chose bidders who gave higher bids.

The FIO these actions violated the law, which said that bids higher than the approved budget for the contract should be disqualified automatically.

The FIO however cleared current DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane.

FIO chief Assistant Ombudsman Mark Jalandoni said they found ?no evidence to show that (Ebdane) committed any violations.?

Jalandoni said the evidence they gathered showed that Soriquez was acting secretary at the time the projects were bid out and awarded.

?Sweeping, unfair?

But Ebdane said the Ombudsman?s decision ?seemed sweeping and a bit unfair? and expressed confidence ?the truth will prevail.?

In a statement, Ebdane said the DPWH ?is prepared to cooperate in any investigation of its present officials.?

The FIO said it had found ?an indication of collusion between and among the members of the DPWH Bids and Awards Committee (DPWH-BAC) and the bidders.?

Jalandoni said they also found ?patterns of behavior that appear to show collusion among private contractors.?

Jalandoni said they would coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the private contractors.

As for First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, whose name had been mentioned in connection with the allegedly rigged bidding, Jalandoni said they would summon the three witnesses who mentioned Mr. Arroyo?s name during the investigation conducted by the World Bank.

Jalandoni said they will summon Tomatu Suzuka, Shingo Nakamura and O.Y. Kwan to verify their testimonies linking Mr. Arroyo to the alleged anomaly before deciding whether to include the First Gentleman in the second phase of their investigation.

In an earlier interview, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez lamented the lack of cooperation from the World Bank. "The World Bank should also answer why those [supposedly confidential] information are in the newspapers and why some people have copies [of the reports]," Gutierrez said last month.

But Jalandoni said they have been coordinating with the WB in the investigation.

"We have a continuous coordination and communication with the WB," Jalandoni said.

He said that aside from documents the WB gave to the Office of the Ombudsman, they also used other papers the fact-finding committee independently got, as well as reports from the DPWH. They also got copies of documents of the questioned bidding processes.

The Office of the Ombudsman is expected to officially announce the results of the fact-finding investigation in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. With reports from TJ Burgonio and Jerome Aning

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