Lulled into a false sense of relief by the transfer and suspension of a top regional irrigation manager, contractors expressed their utter distress over his return to his old post and feared the revival of his alleged penchant for “unscrupulous demands for money from local contractors of Bohol in the form of kickbacks”.
In a five page complaint-affidavit filed before the Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) on July 13, 2016, Engr. Petronilo Sarigumba, president of the Association of Bohol’s Construction Companies Incorporated (ABCCI) sought the “dismissal from public office and imprisonment” of National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Regional Irrigation Manager (RIM), Engr. Modesto Membreve.
The complaint also sought for the preventive suspension of Membreve to prevent the tampering and destruction of documents pertaining to the criminal and administrative complaints against him.
The Ombudsman (Visayas) gave due course to Sarigumba’s complaint ordering Membreve to file his counter affidavit and controverting evidence.
Taking up the cudgels on behalf of his colleagues, Sarigumba revealed to the Ombudsman the alleged “illegal scheme perpetrated by Membreve” of the “forced collection of the 10% equity participation of irrigator’s associations” from local contractors in exchange for the awarding of projects.
Failing to “muster the courage to speak out the truth for fear of reprisal”, Sarigumba was authorized by the ABCCI, in a special meeting on June 24, 2016 to file a criminal and administrative complaint against Membreve.
According to Sarigumba, “many of the member-contractors who have contracted projects with NIA-Bohol had fallen prey to the scheme of Membreve during his stint as Regional Irrigation Manager in 2009-2011.”
Sarigumba also described his personal experience during the construction of the spillway of the Zamora Small Irrigation Project in Talibon, Bohol over Membreve’s alleged phone call demanding “his 10% share or S.O.P” as condition for the release of the full payment of the project.
“I gave in and delivered at the NIA-Bohol Office located at Dao District, Tagbilaran City, Fifty Thousand pesos in cold cash directly to Membreve who readily accepted the same without qualms.”Â
Sarigumba and Membreve have been constantly at each other’s throats since the appointment of Membreve as the first RIM in the newly created NIA regional office in Central Visayas based in Bohol.
But Membreve, in his 10 page joint counter-affidavit to the Ombudsman for the criminal and administrative complaints filed by Sarigumba, debunked all his accusations as “more of a fishing expedition”.
The alleged P50,000.00 cold cash “that I received from the complainant is pure lie, according to Membreve and must be substantiated with evidence.
Membreve lambasted Sarigumba for “bluffing, misleading and even to the extent of falsifying his complaint against me” claiming that “I became his natural object of anger and revenge.”
Membreve recalled that he turned down a request of Sarigumba for a contract extension “despite the order of contract termination issued against him by my predecessor”.
Membreve discredited Sarigumba’s record as a contractor of NIA projects as “really atrocious, and he doesn’t deserve to be allowed to participate in the implementation of NIA projects.”
Membreve also labeled as “fictitious and no legal personality” the existence of the ABBCI citing the Securities and Exchange Commission Certificate of Registration on October 21, 2015 more than four months after the June 14, 2015 special meeting authorizing Sarigumba to file the criminal and administrative cases against him before the Ombudsman.
ILLEGAL COLLECTIONSÂ Â
Sarigumba, In a previous interview with theÂ ChronicleÂ said that “our role as contractors is to build irrigation facilities for the farmers not to participate in the management of irrigation systems.”
This mandatory deductions, Sarigumba disclosed, would greatly impact on the quality of irrigation works since the budget for the project would be significantly reduced.
The NIA, under Republic Act 3601 as amended by Presidential Decrees 552 and 1702 is mandated to charge and collect from irrigator’s associations irrigation service fees (ISF)Â to cover the cost of operation, maintenance and recover the costs of construction.
Sarigumba also denounced Membreve for his failure to “fully disclose and meticulously account” for the 10% collected from the contractors during his term as RIM “neither receipts nor any kind of document to show the deduction.”
The non-issuance of receipts is another scheme orchestrated by Membreve to collect money from the contractors for the alleged benefit of the irrigator-farmers “but ends up in the deep pockets of crooked government officials like him.”Â
The return of Membreve to Bohol prompted Sarigumba to file the graft complaint to “expose his corruption and weed out an undeserving person from public office.”
Membreve was ordered reinstated to his position as RIM of NIA Region 7 after serving a one month suspension without pay on May 2, 2014 for “simple negligence”Â together withÂ NIA-Region X RIM Julius S. Maquiling and Olimpio J. Galagala, Head NIA Bohol Provincial Irrigation Office.Â
The Ombudsman upheld Sarigumba’s complaint accusing Membreve forÂ “causing the appointment of his two daughters and his son-in-law to the NIA” in violation of Section 59, Chapter 7, Book V of Executive Order No. 292 on nepotism.
Membreve ran to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration of the Ombudsman’s decision but was denied. The Ombudsman is set to file criminal charges against Membreve before the Sandiganbayan.
The Civil Service Commission (CSC) ordered the NIA to “immediately restore Membreve to his official station at the NIA Regional Office No. Vll, Tagbilaran City, Bohol” after the CSC in Decision no. 160235 promulgated on January 29, 2016 found the reassignment of Membreve to the NIA Administrator’s office “improper on the ground that it amounts to constructive dismissal”.
Membreve assumed his position as RIM of NIA-7 on June 1, 2016 upon the order of the CSC in Office Memorandum No. 40 series of 2016 dated May 26, 2016 in place of RIM Mario Sande who was assigned to Negros Island Region.
Upon learning of the return of Membreve, the ABCCIÂ called on Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chairperson Alicia Dela Rosa-Bala “to prevent a catastrophic mistake in the appointment of Modesto Membreve as the Regional Manager of Region Vll of National Irrigation Administration”.
Membreve anchored his defense against Sarigumba’s accusations on the basis of his assignment as RIM in Bohol which “date is very important to me considering that I just resumed my position as Regional Manager of Region Vll last June 16, 2016. Any incident before that date will not be relevant to me”.
The contracts mentioned in the complaint of Sarigumba “are actually referring to the validity of contracts and are questions of law, according to Membreve.
Membreve chided the Ombudsman for giving due course to the complaint, considering that it remains “vague and unsubstantiated” and should “merit outright dismissal” even as “I can only pray for fairness from the handling investigator in these cases”.
Membreve did not return calls and text messages from theÂ Chronicle.
Sarigumba was the former project manager of NIA-Bohol before he ventured into the private construction business with several NIA construction projects while Membreve gained prominence after his successful supervision of the controversial Bayongan Dam in San Miguel.
Sarigumba filed a complaint against Membreve for the crime of violation of Section 3(B) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as amended and of Grave Misconduct, Serious Dishonesty and Conduct Unbecoming of a Public Official.Â (Chito M. Visarra)Â