Ombudsman orders filing of graft raps vs. Negros Oriental guv, 10 others on Php480-M calamity fund scam

The Office of the Ombudsman has found probable cause to indict Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo for 11 counts of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act", for the illegal disbursement of calamity funds used to pay for the province's infrastructure projects in 2012.

The charges arose from the illegal use of the calamity fund intended for the repair, rehabilitation and construction of structures damaged by natural calamities.

Also facing 11 counts of graft are provincial treasurer Danilo Mendez, provincial accountant Teodorico Reyes, and provincial engineer Franco Alpuerto.

Mendez and Reyes were also indicted for 11 counts of falsification of public documents.

The Ombudsman also ordered the filing of graft charges against Alejandro Lim Jr. of Lim General Contractor Corporation; Mark Anthony Clemente of CTC Builders and Supplies, Inc.; Danny Chan of AJAN Jeada Inc.; Wilfredo Chu of Bigfoot Construction and Supply; Farouk Macarambon of Fiat Construction Services; Maribel Ranola of Legazpi Premium Development Corporation; and Ricardo Abriol Santos of Richmark Construction and Supply.

Results of the preliminary investigation showed that in December 2011, Degamo requested assistance for the rehabilitation of the province's infrastructure damaged by Typhoon "Sendong" in 2011 and the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that happened in February 2012.

On June 5, 2012, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued a Special Allotment and Release Order (SARO) in the amount of Php961.5 million, of which Php480.7 million were immediately released to the provincial government.

However, on June 19, 2012, the DBM informed Degamo that the SARO was being withdrawn due to the failure of the province to comply with existing guidelines for infrastructure projects.

Technically, with the issuance of a negative SARO, the projects of the province were no longer supported by appropriation and allotment.

Despite the notice, Degamo, et. al. proceeded to award the 11 infrastructure contracts amounting to Php143.2 million, representing the 15 percent advance payment to contractors.

Upon audit, the Commission on Audit (COA) issued 11 Notices of Disallowance, observing that funds were certified available despite the withdrawal of the SARO.

Degamo failed to file any counter-affidavit to controvert the charges.

The approved Ombudsman resolution said that "respondents unilaterally ignored the DBMs directive and continued to award 11 infrastructure projects."

Ombudsman Morales said that "if respondents had reservations on the legality of the withdrawal of the positive SARO, they could have asked a higher executive authority or secured a judicial directive allowing them to retain control of the funds released to the province. This, respondents failed to do."

Source: Philippines News Agency