Ombudsman hierarchy takes over anew records on P87.3M city housing fiasco

By Florence F. Hibionada/PNS

Cannibalized, abandoned and total wastage of over P87.3 Million in public funds, it is now up to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to make final its “appropriate action” on the Iloilo City Employees Housing Project (ICEHP).

This, as the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas released a case update on three criminal cases and one administrative case pending for at least nine years in said anti-Graft Body.

Initially filed in October 2003 followed up by another case in December 2003, turned out the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas did its job in resolving the cases two years later in May 9, 2005. In fact, by May 23, 2005, then Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Primo C. Miro approved the Consolidated Resolution penned by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer I Pio Dargantes. Corresponding Review was made by Ombudsman Director Edgardo Canton.

The recommendations were clear – three counts of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against nine respondents led by former Mayor Mansueto Malabor and then City Councilor now City Legal Officer Jose Junio Jacela. In these charges, the Ombudsman held the nine liable for the awarding of contract to Ace Builders despite lack of bidding requirements and for the P23.5 Million in payments made.

Further still anti-Graft charges too against then Mayor and now Congressman Jerry Trenas, then City Administrator, former City Engineer, the City Treasurer and Ace Builder’s Alex Trinidad for payments of P43.8 Million despite reports on the use of substandard materials. Another charge against Trenas for failing to prosecute Trinidad.

Trenas and company were also meted a three-month suspension without pay as per May 9, 2005 Decision for Gross Neglect of Duty with complete records of the case forwarded to Ombudsman higher-ups in June 7, 2005.

“Meting resps. Trenas, Tan, Bravo & Tingson the penalty of (3) mos. Suspen. w/o pay, resp. Bravo is no longer connected w/ the public service, the penalty of 3 mos. Susp. Is deemed as imposed and shall form part of his 201 file. The complaint against the ff. resps Amatorio, Maternal, Maestrecampo, Padregosa, Magallanes, Osorio & Miranda be dismissed for insufficiency of evidence,” the information on said case update disclosed as culled from the Ombudsman’s records.

Said suspension orders though were never served alongside the filing of charges before the Sandiganbayan. This as the case apparently slept in the next five years until the Review made by then Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro.

Casimiro as “per delegated authority” upheld the findings of probable cause against Malabor and company yet deferred action and went back to ordering further fact-finding on Trenas and company.

Incidentally, of all those charged, only Jacela got to submit a Motion For Reconsideration (MR) a month after Casimiro’s Review was released. Same case update showed Ombudsman Records on Casimiro’s Review dated October 7, 2010 then Jacela’s MR in October 6, 2010.

It was not reflected in the case update if Jacela acted as well for Trenas and company.

To note,copy of the 110-page Consolidated Resolution bearing Ombudsman Miro’s 2005 signature and 2010 approval of Ombudsman Casimiro came to light only in 2011. All those charged in the side of Malabor including contractor Trinidad said they have not received their own copies thus not able to submit MRs unlike Jacela.

With the entire records of the case confirmed to be in possession of Ombudsman Morales, hopes are up anew of some kind of Ombudsman action.

Morales upon assumption into office made public her policy thrust marked by 8 priorities.

“Our policy thrust, in the Office of the Ombudsman for 2011-2018, is to enhance efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability, credibility and responsiveness in the performance of the mandate and functions of the Office towards the improvement of corruption prevention and control,” the statement as reflected in the Ombudsman official website went.

Topping the list of priorities is the disposition of high profile cases.

“Under the law, the Ombudsman shall give priority to complaints filed against high-ranking government officials and/or those occupying supervisory positions, complaints involving grave offenses as well as complaints involving large sums of money and/or properties (last paragraph of Sec. 15, R.A. 6770). As the lead anti-corruption agency, the Ombudsman should also give the highest priority to the disposition of cases of grand corruption, as distinguished from petty or bureaucratic corruption, and those which are highly publicized. For purposes for classifying complaints and cases that need to be prioritized, the term large sums of money refers to those where the amount of money or property involved is at least 10 million pesos,” the Ombudsman vow went.