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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, January 25, 2014
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Villamor: Monico innocent;
Bayatan: They’re in denial

BY CHRYSEE SAMILLANO

City Administrator Rolando Villamor said yesterday that Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella is innocent and has a clear conscience despite the recommendation of the Ombudsman to file charges against him at the Sandiganbayan.

Private complainant, lawyer Joselito Bayatan, however, said “They are in the denial stage.”

The Ombudsman denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Puentevella seeking the reversal of its decision indicting him, Victorino Tirol, former regional director of the Department of Education Region VI, and Jessie Garcia, chairman of Merryland Publishing Corporation, in connection with the purchase of overpriced computers worth P25 million when the Mayor was still a congressman.

The Ombudsman, however, saying it has no basis to reverse its Sept. 30, 2013 decision, ordered the filing of the case against Puentevella, Tirol and Garcia before the Sandiganbayan.

The case stemmed from Puentevella's use of his Priority Development Assistance Fund, also known as "pork barrel," from 2002 to 2007 for information technology packages for elementary and secondary schools in Bacolod, that were supposed to be defective and unsuitable for school use.

Villamor said Puentevella is ready to face the criminal charges for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act once is it formally filed in the Sandiganbayan.

The mayor is determined to face the charges in the Sandiganbayan because he wants this case finally decided to prove his innocence, he said.

Villamor said it is expected that the mayor will be arraigned for him to plead not guilty.

SUSPENSION TALKS

Talks about the Mayor’s alleged suspension is still far-fetched as there are still legal procedures that need to be undertaken, he said.

Villamor said the suspension will not happen and the mayor, who granted the bonuses to the employees, will be the same mayor who will give Christmas bonuses this year and next year, until his term ends.

"We are waiting and ready to face the case head on. This is one chance that I could prove to Bacolodnons that his case is baseless," he said.

They are taking legal steps to challenge the warrant of arrest which may be issued in case the charges will be filed in the Sandiganbayan and will also challenge whether or not Puentevella can be sued before the Sandiganbayan, he said.

INFORMATION TO BE QUESTIONED

"We will question whether the information filed by the Ombudsman is a valid information. That right and move by the accused is guaranteed by the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Segovia vs. Sandiganbayan,” ViIlamor said.

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

Bayatan, however, said this only shows that the City Administrator does not know what is happening in the computer case. He also keeps on talking about suspension and warrant of arrest, which are imminent consequences of the filing of the criminal case against Puentevella, he said.

CONFUSION?

Bayatan said Villamor seems to be confused over a pre-suspension hearing, and the filing of information.

The pre-suspension hearing is already inclusive of the validation of information. The information upon validation of the Sandiganbayan will result in the issuance of suspension against Puentevella, Bayatan said.

He also said the filing of information by the Ombudsman is based on probable cause that had been established in the preliminary investigation, and that finding will be translated into the filing of information.

“We do not think the Ombudsman will be wrong in the preparation of the information. We believe, however, that the Ombudsman is absolutely correct in the preparation and filing of information, which will naturally be validated by the Sandiganbayan,” he said.

In a separate decision, the Ombudsman dismissed Tirol from the service, but since he is already retired, it converted the penalty to a fine equivalent to one year’s salary, payable to the Ombudsman.

The 8-page decision dismissing the motions for reconsideration of Puentevella, Tirol and Garcia, penned by assistant special prosecutor III Ana Isabel Arellano, was signed by the Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales on Jan. 8, 2014.

The decision noted that Puentevella and company,“gave unwarranted benefits and advantage to Merryland…by awarding it a multi-million-peso contract for the purchase of Informational Technology packages without conduct of public bidding.”

UNDUE INJURY TO GOV’T

The respondents “caused undue injury to government by depriving it the opportunity to get the most advantageous offer resulting in its purchase of overpriced IT packages,” the decision also said.

They also “acted with evident bad faith and manifest partiality when they violated the requirements of the law on public bidding and awarded the contract to Merryland,” it said.

It also threw out the argument of Puentevella that he did not participate in the procurement process. The Ombudsman’s decision cited his letter introducing a representative of Merryland to DepEd.

Puentevella’s letter also authorized “Bethel Garcia of Merryland to transact with DepEd Region VI for the delivery, release and payment of the IT package,” it noted.

In their complaint-affidavit in 2007, lawyers Allan Zamora (now deceased but was the City Legal Officer at the time of filing of case), Bayatan, and Vicente Petierre alleged that Puentevella, Tirol, and Garcia committed anomalies in the procurement and distribution of IT packages.

They said that Puentevella allocated funds from his PDAF from 2002 to 2007 for the purchase of IT packages at P400,000 each. They added that the DepEd-Western Visayas regional office, then headed by Tirol, procured the items from Merryland Publishing Corporation, based in Mandaluyong, without the conduct of a public bidding.

COA’S CONCLUSION

The COA had made the same conclusion in its management letter on the Audit of DepEd Regional office VI, the Ombudsman also noted.

Quoting a report of the Investigation Committee of the Bacolod City Legal Office dated March 26, 2007, the complainants alleged that the IT packages are "overpriced, defective, and non-functional," and that some of the school-beneficiaries have not received them.

Each computer package, which comes with accessories, costs P400,000. The whole package was reportedly overpriced by P14 million, according to the CLO Investigation Committee Report in 2007.*CGS

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