Ombudsman office orders ex-BFAR chief, 4 others to respond to graft complaints
MANILA, Philippines — Former Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Eduardo Gongona and four other respondents were ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman to respond to the graft complaint filed against them.
The case involves a P2.09 billion contract awarded to a British company to equip commercial fishing vessel transceivers.
The order stemmed from a graft complaint filed on May 1, 2022 by lawyer James Mier Victoriano against Gongona, current National Director Hansel Didulo, Department of Agriculture-BFAR bids and awards committee former chairperson Demosthenes Escoto, Chief Executive Officer Simon Tucker and Chief Financial Officer Richard Hurd of the British company SRT Marine Systems Solutions Ltd.
Based on a three-page directive issued on April 11, 2023, the five were ordered to submit their counter-affidavit within 10 days of receiving the order.
“The respondents’ failure to file their Counter-Affidavit within the aforesaid period shall be deemed a waiver of their right to submit controverting evidence and the investigation shall proceed accordingly,” the order read.
“No motion to dismiss, motion for [a] bill of particulars, or other dilatory motions shall be entertained,” it added.
Each respondent was ordered to attach the affidavits of their witnesses and other supporting evidence in their counter-affidavits and to furnish the complainant a copy of their submissions with proof of service.
BFAR, through its Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring Systems (IMEMS) project, required all commercial fishing vessels to install Vessel Monitoring System transceivers in 2022.
Victoriano’s complaint alleged irregularities in awarding a three-year IMEMS contract to SRT, as it was deemed ineffective due to its notice to proceed on December 4, 2018, and expiring on December 4, 2021.
Further, Victoriano said the IMEMS was supposed to be funded by a loan from the French government and had a P1.6 billion approved budget for the contract.
But the project had a requisite that the bidders must be French — or at least a joint venture with a French firm.
Yet, BFAR still awarded SRT the winning bidder, only for the French government to declare it ineligible as a British company.
In another bidding in 2018, SRT again won, but the project’s approved budget has increased to P2.09 billion with local funding.
Victoriano sought indictments against the respondents for violations of Sections 3(e), 3(g), and 3(j) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Sections 30, 34, 65(c), and 65(d) of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act; and Section 23.6 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9184.
INQUIRER.net has already contacted BFAR to get its former and current officials’ side, but it has yet to respond as of writing.