Former Isabela governor Padaca charged with graft
MANILA, Philippines—Former Isabela Governor Grace Padaca has been charged with graft and malversation of public funds in the Sandiganbayan for the alleged improper award of a P25-million contract to a private firm to implement the province’s rice program.
The Office of the Ombudsman also filed similar charges against provincial legal officer Johnas Lamonera, municipal councilor Servando Soriano and Dionisio Pine, manager of the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation, Inc. (EDWINLFI).
Lamonera and Soriano were also officers of EDWINLFI.
Their recommended bail was P40,000 for the malversation charge, and P30,000 for the graft charge.
The charges against Padaca, an ally of President Benigno Aquino, and the other Isabela officials were filed on the basis of a complaint made by former Isabela representative Santiago Respicio.
Respicio had accused them of criminal acts for granting P25 million to private corporation EDWINLFI to implement the province’s Priority Hybrid Rice Program, specifically the supervised credit facility.
But the officials contended that the award was legal because Isabela’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan ratified the memorandum of agreement between the provincial government and EDWINLFI.
In its resolution ordering the indictment of the Padaca and her co-accused, the Office of the Ombudsman said the province, through Padaca, awarded the contract to EDWINLFI to manage the supervised credit facility for farmers without conducting a public bidding or any other procurement procedure.
There was also nothing to show that the provincial government tried to search for other consultants who may offer the kind of services needed for the project, it added.
It said that while procurement methods other than public bidding are allowed under the procurement law, there was no reason not to hold the required bidding for this project.
It said direct contracting was allowed only when purchasing items of a proprietary nature, or goods sold by an exclusive dealer or manufacturer. It is also only allowed in procuring goods. But the work required of EDWINLFI fell under the category of management and related services, it said. Hence, direct contracting was not appropriate under the rules, it added.
Not even an authorization from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or the ratification of the MOA between the Isabela government and EDWINLFI would justify the deviation from the procurement law, it said.
The Office of the Ombudsman also said that the MOA between the provincial government and the private firm was belatedly ratified. It took place after EDWINLFI was already paid.
The MOA did not show the amount of the contract, the cost estimates and the terms of reference in relation to the scope of services. Padaca could be faulted for this, it added.
“Without due regard to the rules on government procurement and notwithstanding that the Memorandum of Agreement was yet to be ratified by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Governor Padaca arbitrarily carried on to engage the services of EDWINLFI to manage and administer Isabela’s provincial rice program the implementation of which ensued into a significantly irregular transaction,” it said.
Given the defiance of procurement rules and the failure to show that the money reached the beneficiaries of the program, it said Padaca’s act of giving the P25 million to EDWINLFI was as good as permitting it to take public funds through abandonment or negligence.
“Was the money actually given to the intended beneficiaries? We cannot tell. But one fact is certain, such amount of public fund is actually unaccounted for, or was applied for the personal gain and benefit of the public respondents, or of other persons, such as those running the affairs of EDWINLFI,” it said.
The Office of the Ombudsman also said that Lamonera and Soriano’s position in EDWINLFI, even if the latter is a non-government organization, already creates suspicion as to the regularity of the questioned transaction.
Soriano, Pine and Lamonera, as EDWINLFI officials, should be held liable for their participation in the transaction with the Isabela government, the Office of the Ombudsman said.
It said that while they denied their participation, they contradicted themselves when Soriano and Pine admitted providing information during the deliberations held by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on the ratification of the MOA, and when Lamonera admitted reviewing the legality and sufficiency of documents related to the memorandum.
Their actions show their “common design to commit such an anomalous transactions in order to obtain unwarranted benefits at the expense of the Provincial Government of Isabela,” it added.
Cleared of similar charges were current and former provincial treasurers Theresa Flores and William Nicolas.
In the same resolution, the Office of the Ombudsman cleared the Isabela officials of allegations that they had unlawfully juggled funds when Padaca used the money set aside for the Economic Development Fund to pay for a loan.
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