The Sandiganbayan has issued hold departure order against suspended Vice Gov. Dionisio Balite, former Vice Gov. Julius Caesar Herrera and other top present and former Bohol officials involved in the irregular heavy equipment deal in the past administration.
The special anti-graft court is expected to issue anytime the arrest warrants for the accused, although some of them already put up cash bail bonds at P30,000 each for their provisional liberty.
The heavy equipment procurement transaction costing almost P170 million during the time of then Gov. Erico Aumentado has been alleged to have violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Law.
But the late governor has been “saved” from both administrative and criminal charges and liabilities on account of his death after his capitol term.
The hold departure order was issued based on separate resolutions respectively approved by the First and Seventh Divisions of the Sandiganbayan on December 12 and 14, 2017.
This was further after the Ombudsman filed with the Sandiganbayan the information for the criminal aspect of the charges against the respondent high-ranking incumbent and former provincial officials.
Balite and his co-respondents who are still in the government have been suspended for nine months since last year for the administrative aspect of the charges.
The hold departure order by the First Division was against Alfonso Damalerio II, Cesar Tomas Lopez, Brigido Imboy, Amalia Tirol, Ester Corazon Galbreath, Ma. Fe Lejos, Josil Trabajo, Aster Piollo and Jane Censoria Cajes-Yap, all then members of the 2007-2010 batch of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP).
Damalerio, Lopez and Imboy are the incumbent provincial administrator, provincial health cluster head, and vice mayor of Loay, respectively.
Being still in government service, they, like Balite, have still likewise been serving their nine-month suspension.
The hold departure order bars the accused from leaving the country, except upon prior approval from the Sandiganbayan.
The First Division consists of Chairperson Efren de la Cruz and Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Oscar Herrera.
The hold departure order by the Seventh Division was for the members of the 2004-2007 batch of the SP who included, among others, Jose Veloso, Felix Uy, Concepcion Lim, Godofreda Tirol and Frances Bobbith Cajez-Auza.
Veloso is the incumbent vice mayor of Maribojoc while Uy was hired in the Provincial Legal Office and, thus, they have likewise been serving suspension.
Balite, Tirol (Amalia), Galbreath, Lejos and Imboy were members, too, of the 2004-2007 set of the SP.
Herrera was the vice governor and presiding officer of the provincial board from 2001 to 2010 or in full three terms.
Lim had also served as vice governor from 2010 to 2016.
Also charged in the Sandiganbayan were the chairman and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) in Aumentado’s time, namely, Handel Lagunay, BAC chairman; Edwin Vallejos, vice chairman; Greta Mende, and Laura Boloyos and Felix Mejorada, members.
They had then also served in these capacities in Aumentado’s term—Lagunay, provincial legal officer; Vallejos, general services officer; Mende, assistant provincial engineer; Boloyos, acting assistant provincial budget officer; and Mejorada, administrative officer IV of the Office of the Governor.
Engr. Abraham Clarin, head of the Provincial Motor Pool (PMP), has been charged, too, as he then joined in the BAC proceeding since his office would be the end-user of the heavy equipment to be procured then.
The Seventh Division of the Sandiganbayan likewise ordered their inclusion in the hold departure list.
The division consists of Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Bayani Jacinto.
THE CASE IN BRIEF
The case stemmed from two separate SP resolutions authorizing the then governor, Aumentado, for the opening and negotiation of letters of credit with two different banks for the purchase through importation of a fleet of heavy equipment.
The resolutions—the first passed by the SP in 2006, the second by the next batch of SP in 2009—also authorized Aumentado to sign all pertinent documents, and allowed the banks to debit all charges incidental to the opening-negotiation of the letters of credit against the bank accounts of the province.
Aumentado had himself formally requested the two sets of the SP under Herrera as then vice governor and presiding officer to grant him the authority.
It was Balite, however, who acted as the presiding officer when the first authority was granted by the SP in 2006 because Herrera was “on official business.” Balite was the senior board member then.
According to the Ombudsman, the resolution in 2006 violated Section 42.5 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act (RA) 9184, also known as the Government Procurement Reform Act, as implemented by Memorandum Order 119, Series of 2003.
The violated section says, “No procuring entity shall be allowed to issue a letter of credit in favor of a Philippine entity or to any of the latter’s foreign manufacturers or suppliers, with respect to any procurement.”
Later after the approval of the first SP resolution, then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Memorandum Order 213, series of 2006, allowing the use of letter of credit in favor of local and foreign suppliers.
But the memorandum also said, “Provided, that, the cost for the opening of letter of credit shall be for the account of the local or foreign suppliers and shall be stated in the bidding documents.”
In other words, the fees for the opening and negotiation of the letter of credit should not be charged to the account of the provincial government with the bank.
When the second resolution was approved by the next SP in 2009, the opening of the letter of credit was already allowed, but not to authorize the bank to debit the fees against the provincial government account with the bank.
The members of the provincial board then were not told about it, explaining why they still granted in good faith the request of the governor that time.
Thus, the SP in 2009 still authorized the bank, as requested by Aumentado, to debit the charges amounting to almost P275,000 from the account of the province instead of the supplier for the opening-negotiation of the letter of credit for the purchase of several heavy equipment despite the prohibition.
The criminal information filed with Sandiganbayan says the respondents had “committed the crime in relation to office, acting with evident bad faith, manifest partiality and/or gross inexcusable negligence, and conspiring and confederating with one another.”
They “did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally give (the supplier) Civic Merchandising, Inc. unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference, and cause undue injury to the government,” the Sandiganbayan charge says.
They have been charged in the Sandiganbayan with violating specifically Section 3(e) of the Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
This is the first time that a number of ranking Bohol officials topped by the vice governor have been suspended for nine months for granting the request of their governor then—although the latter has been dead now—in whose term the alleged anomaly was committed.
Also, it is unprecedented that for the want of a former governor, graft charges have been filed against three vice governors—one incumbent, two former—two past batches of the provincial board, and all members of a former bids and awards body.