First District Rep. Rene Relampagos, hopes that the Sandiganbayan case could finally put closure to the issue on the Salcon deal that had been repeatedly recycled every election season for its propaganda value against him.
The case was first raised by former governor Victor Dela Sernaâ€™s group, the Six Lawyers, 15 years ago, benefiting the late 2nddistrict congressman Erico Aumentado who was then challenging Relampagosâ€™ third term as governor.
The Ombudsman dismissed the complaint in 2008, but it cropped up again last year as the election season neared.
Without any appeal for review on the case from any party, the Ombudsman, on its own, reviewed and sustained again the original position of the complainants and it is now elevated to the Sandiganbayan.
The original position of the Six Lawyers, alleging that the winning bidder in the joint venture agreement for the operation of the Provincial Waterworks System and the Provincial Electric System—then under the Provincial Public Utilities Department of the provincial government—bribed the provincial officials who signed the agreement which was the reason it was sold at only P230 million while it was allegedly worth P780 million.
It was already appreciated by Ombudsman-Visayas through investigating officer, Lawyer Sarah Jo Vergara, that the complainants used as basis, the P780 million projected value of the utilities 20 years later under the private corporation and not the actual worth of the water and electric utilities.
Aside from lodging it before the Ombudsman-Visayas, the complainants also filed the case before the Regional Trial Court which also dismissed it.
The complainants filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals to review the case, but was again dismissed.
The Ombudsman reviewed the case and reversed an earlier findings of its own, a reason for the filing of the case before the Sandiganbayan.
Relampagos said he welcomed the development, saying that at the Sandiganbayan, it can be heard and tried on the merits of the case based on the presentation of evidence and that he is optimistic that â€œat the end of the day, just like what happened at the RTC and CA, this will be dismissedâ€.
The congressman also hinted that some forces might be behind the revival of the case who â€œnot so interested on the outcome of the case but on the propaganda value of the caseâ€.
Relampagos further clarified that the bidding on the JVA was an opened public bidding, thus, transparent and free from any anomaly.
Moreover, the Ombudsman-Visayas dropped the complaint in 2001 after finding out that it was erroneous for the complainants to consider the potential value of the waterworks and electric utilities 20 years later as its actual value when the JVA was entered into and that it was against public interest to give up the utilities to the private consortium under the JVA.
Relampagos explained that based on the Asian Appraisal Report, the two utilities would continue to incur deficits and would be at negative value if left as is but would be worth P780 million 20 years later under the JVA, based on data.
It was also stipulated in the JVA that the consortium must ensure that services will improve, the rates be lowered, and that it should protect the public interest.
â€œAnother advantage is no employee of the then Provincial Waterworks System and Provincial Electric System was dismissed. And, the new corporations that arised from the JVAâ€”the BLCI and the BWUI even hired additional employees,â€ according to Relampagos.
Indeed, the services of the waterworks system—now under the Bohol Water Utilities Inc., and the electric system—now under the Bohol Light Company Inc.—have improved.
When the waterworks and electric systems were bidded out for the JVA, it had a standing obligation of about P21 million with the Land Bank of the Philippines which was assumed by the winning bidder—the Salcon consortium.
Under the JVA, the provincial government remained part owner of the two utilities with 30-percent share.
Over the years, the provincial government had already received around P50 million from its share from the operation of BWUI and BLCI.
The annual dividend from the two utilities served as additional income of the provincial government for the additional public service extended to the people.
It had been proven also that in the 15 years of operation under the BWUI and BLCI, consumers benefited from lower rates on water and electric bills, compared to consumers of the other providers.
The distribution of water and electricity in the city had also improved, making it available 24 hours.
However, the people were not able to consider it 15 years ago and the issue took toll on the supposed third term of Relampagos as governor.
Although during that time it was not well understood by the public, which was used as political issue that caused his defeat to his last term as governor, Relampagos said he had no regrets.
â€œMao naâ€™y price of leadership—to have the will to do what is right and be ready to face the consequence,â€ Relampagos said.