CA upholds dismissal of DPWH officials in lamppost case
It won’t be a merry Christmas nor a Happy New Year for the 14 public officials charged in the anomalous purchase of P365 million worth of lampposts in Metro Cebu.
In a ruling dated last Aug. 17, the Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the dismissal of the 14 public officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways that were found guilty for the purchase of 1,800 lampposts in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.
The decorative lampposts were installed in time for the 2007 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit held in Cebu.
Asst. Ombudsman Virginia Palanca-Santiago told Cebu Daily News the appellate court’s ruling is deemed “final.”
Santiago said Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson and Mayors Jonas Cortes and Paz Radaza of the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu respectively were mandated to enforce the penalty.
Ordered dismissed from government service were Robert Lala, Gloria Dindin, Marlina Alvizo, Pureza Fernandez, Cresencio Bagolor, Augustinito Hermoso, Luis Galang, and Restitutu Diano, Buenaventura Pajo, all of the DPWH.
Also included were local government engineers Hedelisa Latonio, Gregorio Omo, Mario Gerolaga, Julito Cuizon, and Rogelio Veloso.
All were found guilty of grave misconduct by the Ombudsman-Visayas for the overpriced purchase of the lampposts.
The anti-graft office said the cost of each lamppost was overpriced by almost 10 times its actual cost.
The Ombudsman-Visayas ordered the forfeiture of benefits of all the respondents, including those who retired from service.
Provincial Board (PB) Member Thadeo Ouano, whose term as Mandaue City mayor ended in 2007, was also found guilty of grave misconduct.
The Ombudsman-Visayas ordered that “the penalty imposed upon him be deemed implemented and reflected in his record of public service.”
Lapu-Lapu Rep. Arturo Radaza, then mayor of Lapu-Lapu City, was earlier among the respondents in the administrative complaint.
However, he was eventually dropped from the case since he was re-elected to office.
Moot and academic
Under the Aguinaldo Doctrine, a public official can’t be held administratively liable for misconduct done during his prior term since reelection in effect condones the previous misconduct.
Rosalina Denque, an engineer of Mandaue City, was found guilty of neglect of duty and was meted a six-month suspension without pay.
Two other government engineers—Alfredo Sanchez and Fernando Tagaan—were also found administratively liable for the lampposts controversy.
However, their respective penalties were considered “moot and academic” since they are already dead.
The anti-graft office, on the other hand, dismissed the administrative charges against Teresa Bernido, Aayon Manggis, and Marilyn Ojeda—all of the Technical Working Group (TWG).
The criminal charges against the respondents, including Ouano and Radaza, are pending before the Sandiganbayan.
Cebu Daily News tried to contact lawyer Gloria Lastimosa-Dalawampu but she didn’t answer the calls.
Lawyer Joey Luis Wee, counsel of the DPWH-7 officials, begged off from making comments.
The CA’s 19th division in Cebu City dismissed the petition filed by eight of the respondents who sought the reversal of the anti-graft office’s dismissal order.
The eight respondents filed a motion for extension to file petition for review last Aug. 2, 2011, the last day for filing of that pleading.
“Given the procrastination in the filing of the motion, for it was filed on the very last day of the reglementary period, the court could not be expected to have acted on such very limited time…,” states the ruling penned by Associate Justice Eduardo Peralta Jr.
Peralta said a “motion that is not acted upon in due time is deemed denied.”
CA Associate Justices Gabriel Ingles and Pampio Abarintos concurred with Peralta’s resolution.
Santiago said the anti-graft office will send formal letters to Singson and the mayos of the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu to determine if the penalty has been imposed upon the respondents.
In March 2007, the Ombudsman investigated the acquisition of decorative lampposts installed along the streets of the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu.
The DPWH then under secretary Hermogenes Ebdane spearheaded the acquisition of the China-made lampposts.
The funds used and/or allocated for the purchase were reportedly taken from the Motor Vehicle Users Charge Fund.
The local chief executives of the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu were given a chance to choose the design of the lampposts to be installed in their respective areas.
The anti-graft office said officials of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu prepared the corresponding Programs of Work and Estimates (POWE) for the lampposts.
For the lampposts installed in Cebu City, the POWE as prepared by the DPWH-7 officials.
The two contractors for the project were Fabmik Construction and Equipment Co. Inc., and Gampik Construction and Development Corp.
The Ombudsman-Visayas said a comparison of the costs of the lampposts as indicated in the POWE prepared by Mandaue City and reflected in the importation documents showed the equipment was overpriced by nearly 10 times its actual cost.
The Lapu-Lapu City POWE covering the costs of the lampposts was practically the same with Mandaue City.
The POWE prepared by the DPWH covered the procurement and installation of the lampposts in Cebu City and some parts of Lapu-Lapu City.
The public respondents, the investigators said, placed ”such inflated estimates on the costs of the lamps.
“The contracts, therefore, are manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government,” the Ombudsman-Visayas said.
Business Crisologo Saavedra, one of the complainants, voiced elation over the ruling.
“Justice has been done. I’m very glad. Although I’m sorry for them but we believe they deserve the penalty,” Saavedra told Cebu Daily News over the phone.
Saavedra is hopeful that the respondents, including Ouano and Radaza, will be convicted of the criminal charges pending before the Sandiganbayan.
“This is a lesson for the people in government to be honest and to stop their corrupt activities,” he said.
The Ombudsman Visayas originally filed five cases against two contractors and several local officials with the different divisions of the Sandiganbayan in connection with the 1,800 overpriced lampposts.
The anti-graft court remanded four of the five cases for “strengthening.”
In May 2009, the Ombudsman Visayas refiled the four cases with the Sandiganbayan.
Of the four cases, Congressman Radaza and Board Member Ouano appear in one case each.
Ouano, however, has two cases before the Sandiganbayan since the former mayor was one of the respondents in the case that was not remanded to the anti-graft office.
One case was sent back by the Sandiganbayan to the Ombudsman Viasyas for the second time.
The remanded case covered contract no. 06H00048 for lampposts set up in Lapu-Lapu City.
The Sandiganbayan said further preliminary investigation is needed for the case which remains pending with the Ombudsman-Visayas.