Bacolod mayor's appeal on IT scam case junked

By Danny Dangcalan, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 26 2014 09:31 AM | Updated as of Jan 26 2014 05:31 PM

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has denied a motion of Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella in connection with the “computer scam” case filed against him and two other government officials.

In a resolution issued on Jan. 7, assistant special prosecutor Anna Isabel Aurellano found no basis to reverse an Ombudsman ruling handed down on Sept. 30 last year, which was being questioned by Puentevella; Victorino Tirol Jr., former regional director of the Department of Education in Region 6, and Jessie Garcia, chairman of the board of Merryland Publishing Corp., the supplier of the information technology (IT) packages in question.

The case involved the alleged anomalous procurement of computers worth more than P25 million using Puentevella’s Priority Development Assistance Fund when he was a congressman.

The case stemmed from the purchase of IT packages from Merryland Publishing Corp. at P400,000 each allegedly without the conduct of a public bidding.

The items were alleged to be overpriced, defective and non-functional and some of the school beneficiaries were not able to receive the items.

Morales recommended that the case against the three officials be filed before the Sandiganbayan.

Bacolod City legal officer Joselito Bayatan, one of the complainants, said this is a landmark case and believed to be the first “pork” barrel-related case to be elevated to the Sandiganbayan since the scandal on the misuse of the PDAF broke out last year.

Ready to face charges

“I’m not bothered, worried, afraid, and I am ready to face the Sandiganbayan anytime,” Puentevella said in a text message to journalists on Friday.

He said it’s time for him to face the allegations in order to put an end to it. He said it is the right time that the issue over the alleged overpriced computer package purchases be heard, tried, and judged.

The mayor said the filing of the case against him was politically motivated, noting that Bayatan is an ally of his known political enemy and former city mayor now Rep. Evelio Leonardia.

“They want to prevent me from being reelected by 2016 as they know my programs are widely accepted by the Bacoleños,” Puentevella said.

No suspension

City administrator Rolando Villamor, a member of the legal team of Puentevella, confirmed that the Ombudsman denied their motion for reconsideration.

But Villamor said a Supreme Court ruling prevents automatic suspension as it must be determined that the accused public officer was indicted under a valid information at a pre-suspension hearing.

“We are waiting and ready to face the case. This is one chance that I could prove to Bacoleños that the case is baseless,” he said.

The lawyer said they would question whether the information filed by the Ombudsman was valid.

“Before any move, there is a so called pre-suspension hearing so the prosecution can prove that the information filed against Puentevella is valid,” he said.

Bayatan, however, said this only shows that the city administrator did not know what is happening regarding the computer case.

Ombudsman decision

Puentevella, Tirol, and Garcia had separately filed a motion for reconsideration seeking the reversal of the Ombudsman’s decision finding probable cause against them for violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In a separate decision, the Ombudsman dismissed Tirol from the service, but since he was already retired, it instead imposed a fine against him equivalent to one year’s salary.

In Sept. 30 ruling, the Ombudsman said all elements of Sec. 3 of RA 3019 were present in the case.

The anti-graft court said Puentevella and Tirol were public officers, while Garcia allegedly conspired with them.

It said the respondents gave unwarranted benefits and advantage to Merryland Publishing by awarding the multi-million peso contracts without public bidding and acted in bad faith.

In his appeal Puentevella claimed he merely identified the project that would be funded by his PDAF and did not participate in the procurement of the IT packages.