The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of criminal and administrative charges filed against former Loay Mayor Rosemarie Lim Imboy, eight members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) and contractor Square Cube Construction (SQC) for alleged irregularities in the award, demolition and reconstruction of the Loay Municipal Hall.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman-Visayas to drop the graft charges against the municipal officials and the contractor on August 27, 2017 for lack of merit as the allegations filed by the complainants were “unfounded” and “without basis”.
Imboy in a statement emailed to the Chronicle said “I thank the Lord for this dismissal. However, from the start I was not bothered by this case because our conscience is clear. We were just doing our job with extra care and honesty, yet our political opponents would twist, lie and even make stories just to make us look bad by imputing fraud in what we do.”
Imboy, BAC members, and the winning lone bidder, SQC were accused by former Loay Mayor Dr. Jose Borja and incumbent Barangay Poblacion Ubos Kagawads Edgar Allan Mission and Rogerio Ganzon for dishonesty, grave abuse of authority and grave misconduct.
Criminal and administrative cases were lodged by the three complainants on April 26, 2016, before the Ombudsman-Visayas after the BAC allegedly conspired to give SQC “unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference” for the repair/rehabilitation of the municipal hall which suffered massive structural damage during the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that devastated Bohol on October 15, 2013.
According to Borja, Mission and Ganzon, then-Mayor Imboy and the BAC awarded the PhP32.5 million repair/rehabilitation of the municipal hall to SQC represented by Eutiquio Curayag, “despite its failure to submit the required tax clearance”.
The complaint also cited a Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 3rd Engineering District notice that SQC was “declared ineligible” to bid for a separate PhP5 million rehabilitation contract of the Loay municipal hall “for having submitted an expired BIR Tax Clearance dated 20 August 2015” or four days before the bidding for the repair of the municipal hall with funds sourced from the Bohol Earthquake Assistance (BEA).
Imboy was also accused of ordering the demolition of the centuries-old municipal hall despite the vehement objections of the people of Loay, failure to secure a prior clearance from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and inspection and appraisal by the Provincial Auditor, as required by law, according to the complaint filed on April 26, 2016.
NO LEGAL BASIS
The Ombudsman resolved the issues raised by the complainants in favor of Imboy, the BAC members and SQC saying “The Office answers all three issues in the negative.”
In an eight-page joint resolution, the Ombudsman agreed with the position of Imboy that during the bidding, SQC submitted a tax clearance issued on April 20, 2015 valid until October 20, 2015 or until revoked.
According to Imboy, since the submission and opening of bids for the repair/reconstruction of the municipal hall was conducted on August 24, 2015 “the tax clearance (SQC) was clearly valid when it was evaluated.”
Imboy also pointed out that the DPWH bidding on December 29, 2015 “was a separate procurement activity from the BAC bidding of Loay on August 24, 2015.”
The Ombudsman resolution chided the complainants for merely basing their allegations of non-submission of a Tax Clearance by SQC on an attendance report by Maria Ervi Heramis, representative of the BEA-Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
The Ombudsman stressed that the report did not categorically state that SQC did not submit a tax clearance but mentioned the submission of a required BIR registration. No sworn statement of Heramis was submitted as evidence by the complainants.
Three bidders signified their interest to participate in the bidding for the repair/rehabilitation of the municipal hall – Young Builder Corporation, Tuanson Construction and SQC. Only SQC participated in the bidding as the two contractors withdrew.
The Ombudsman joint resolution also found no fault on the part of Imboy over the demolition of the municipal building despite the alleged vociferous protests of concerned residents.
Imboy submitted to the Ombudsman a document containing signatures of the majority of the residents of ten barangays – Botoc Oriental, Calvario, Palo, Tangcasan Norte, Tocdog, Ilaya, Las Salinas Sur and Norte, Tayong Occidental, Alegria Norte, Bonbon, Hinawanan supporting her plans for the rehabilitation/repair of the municipal hall.
An Inspection/Appraisal Report on October 8, 2015 conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA) Regional Technical Assistance Office recommended for the “immediate demolition” of the municipal hall after it was assessed as the 2nd most severely damaged structure to the extent of 90% among the nine damaged buildings in the municipality.
The recommendation for immediate demolition from the COA came after Imboy secured from the Sangguniang Bayan two resolutions granting authority to the mayor to rehabilitate (SB Resolution No. 12-165-2014, Nov. 10, 2014) and eventually demolish the municipal hall (SB Resolution No. 12-186-2014, Nov. 17, 2014).
“The COA did not interpose any objection for the immediate demolition of the structures considering that there was a threat to life and limb of the occupants and building was no longer safe for use.”, according to the Ombudsman resolution.
Concerning the issue of the demolition of the century-old municipal hall without the clearance of the NHCP and the subsequent issuance of a cease and desist order (CDO) on February 19, 2016, Imboy said that she directed Franklin Olaer, owner of SQC to immediately stop the demolition.
The CDO was lifted by the NHCP on June 23, 2016 after confirming the absence of any violation of the provisions of RA 10066 known as the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009”.
The NHCP advised the LGU to “continue the implementation of the rehabilitation work of municipal hall building since the perimeter walls were observed as stable and intact and shoring supports are optional.”
The NHCP also categorically declared that the Loay Municipal Hall Building is a presumed important cultural property, as contra-distinguished from a declared and registered important cultural property under the Philippine Registry of Cultural Properties.
Imboy, in her counter affidavit lashed back at former Mayor Dr. Borja for filing the complaint motivated by envy, jealousy and animosity for her political achievements as the only municipal mayor who finished all of her three consecutive terms as mayor.
Ganzon and Mission also harbored “anger, hatred and resentment” against her because of their bitter political defeat during the 2010 local elections for municipal councilors, according to Imboy.
Members of the BAC exonerated by the Ombudsman were Corazon Angub, Municipal Assessor (chairperson), Ma. Peliza Dumayac, Municipal Treasurer (BAC Secretariat), Peter Ilogon, Municipal Engineer (vice-chair), Sisinio Maquiling, SB member (BAC observer), Herminia Daohog, Municipal Budget Officer, Narciso Apit, Budgeting Assistant, Anania Sarong, Brgy. Poblacion Ibabao Punong Barangay and Leonora Ilogon, Revenue Collection Clerk ll. (Chito M. Visarra)