‘I’M STILL MAYOR!’ Bacolod’s Leonardia challenges…

BACOLOD City – He’s “still the mayor of Bacolod City,” a defiant Mayor Evelio Leonardia insisted as he questioned the Office of the Ombudsman’s order dismissing him from government service.

Leonardia and nine others also ordered dismissed were found guilty of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty over the P50-million purchase of furniture and fixtures at city hall in 2008.

Leonardia was “surprised.” In a statement released yesterday, he said, “For a while, we were told that it (the case) had already been ‘closed and terminated.’”

The dismissal order was signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Assistant Ombudsman Edna Diño.

“We already filed our petition for temporary restraining order (TRO) and injunction with the Court of Appeals,” said Leonardia.

Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) members at the time were also ordered suspended: Secretary to the Mayor Goldwyn Nifras (chairman), Department of Public Services head Nelson Sedillo Sr., City Engineer Belly Aguillon, Engr. Aladino Agbones, Engr. Jaries Ebenizer Encabo, BAC secretariat Melvin Recabar, former city budget officer Luzviminda Treyes, former city accountant Eduardo Ravena, and former city treasurer Annabelle Badajos.

Two respondents were not included in the determination of liabilities: former city legal officer Allan Zamora, who died during the pendency of the case, and Atty. Gliceria Caduhada, who could not be served with a copy of the order to file a counter-affidavit.

The Ombudsman also found probable cause to charge them with violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act “arising from culpable violation of (the Government Procurement Reform Act) and its implementing rules and regulations to the damage and prejudice of the taxpayers and the city government of Bacolod and to the benefit of Comfac Corp., contractor of the furniture and fixtures.”

Aside from dismissal, they will be penalized with forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding office, cancellation of civil service eligibility, and prohibition from taking civil service exams.

According to the Ombudsman, Leonardia “demonstrated partiality in approving Comfac as the winning bidder notwithstanding that it was not eligible to bid, while the city treasurer implemented the illegally procured contract by paying Comfac even beyond the agreed 30-day period of delivery.”

An email to its Visayas office from Francisco H. Puey triggered the filing of the complaint, the Ombudsman said.

Puey, an observer at the bidding, “opined that the BAC considered Comfac as ‘passed’ despite its declaration in the Deneral Information Sheet, required by the Securities and Exchange Commission, that its business was an information technology support system instead of furniture manufacturing.”

Leonardia asserted that Comfac was eligible because it had a “manufacturing facility,” the order stated. “The respondents believe moreover that since the procurement activity was open to all persons and entities, be they manufacturers, distributors or suppliers, in the spirit of competitiveness, any bidder who satisfied the other requirements was considered provided that it could avail of a manufacturing facility.”

“Thus, for the respondents, since Comfac had a sister company, Cornersteel Corp., which engaged in the manufacture of furniture, Comfac was eligible to bid, especially because the two companies had interlocking directors that could facilitate pinning down liabilities if such would arise,” said the Ombudsman.

It was “a case of alleged ‘grave misconduct’ and ‘gross neglect of duty,’” Leonardia said in his statement. “We take it to mean that this delves more on technicalities.”

“If there is any consolation, the Ombudsman’s resolution was clear [that] no money was stolen from the government, all the goods were fully delivered, there was no overprice, there was no conspiracy, [and] there was no bad faith,” he further said.

Meanwhile, Nifras said he and the other BAC members will file a consolidated appeal and a motion before the Court of Appeals and the Ombudsman, respectively, this week.

Upon receipt of the order, the respondents have five days to appeal the criminal charge before the Ombudsman and 15 days to seek a TRO against the administrative charge from the Court of Appeals, said Councilor Renecito Novero, a lawyer./PN


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