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Water project scam: Vice mayor sacked, 5 penalized

/ 12:01 AM April 03, 2014

SAN PEDRO CITY—The vice mayor of Majayjay, Laguna, was removed from office, while five other officials, including a former mayor, were perpetually disqualified from holding any government position, after they were found guilty of grave misconduct over an anomalous water supply project entered into by the local government two years ago.

Vice Mayor Lauro Mentilla was ordered to step down and was replaced by municipal first councilor Valeriano Vito.

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“We are done implementing the Ombudsman order,” said Lionel Dalope, head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government in Laguna, in a phone interview.

According to Dalope, the Ombudsman, on Feb. 21, gave the order as it ruled on a case of irregularity involving a water supply contract between the town and a private firm, Israel Builder and Development Corp. (IBCD).

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Those penalized were Teofilo Guera, mayor at the time of the project; Ana Linda Rosas, former vice mayor; and council members Mentilla, Mauro Aragon, Juancho Andaya, Antonio Zornosa Jr., Mario Mercolisa Jr., Jovanie Ann Esquillo and Bernardo de Villa.

In the May 2013 elections, Mentilla won as vice mayor while Andaya, Zornosa and Mercolisa were reelected in the council. The rest either lost or did not run.

The project, entered into by the municipal government in August and December 2012, was meant to supply water to Majayjay and to the neighboring towns of Lumban and Sta. Cruz, for 100 years under a build-operate-transfer scheme. In the contract, 90 percent of the project’s revenue would go to the company and only 10 percent to the local government.

Froilan Gruezo, a resident of Majayjay and a nonprofit group called Pilipinas Para sa Pinoy (PPP), found this “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to Majayjay.”

In their 2012 complaint to the Ombudsman, a copy of which the Inquirer obtained from PPP over the weekend, they said IBDC was not a water utility but a realty firm and did not have financial and technical expertise to undertake the project.

“The execution, approval and ratification of the bulk water contract by all the respondents resulted in the giving of unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference to IBDC, to the damage and prejudice of Majayjay,” the Ombudsman decision read.

Those found guilty also face forfeiture of retirement benefits and had been barred from taking civil service exams.

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Councilors Andaya, Zornosa and Mercolisa had been spared because the “principle of condonation” came into force when they were reelected.

Dalope said it took more than a year to enforce the Ombudsman order because of “protocols and hierarchies.”

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TAGS: Department of the Interior and Local Government, Laguna, Lauro Mentilla, Lionel Dalope, Majayjay, San Pedro City, Valeriano Vito
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