The Sandiganbayan 7th division has acquitted all 13 Bohol provincial officials charged in connection with the purchase of a backhoe with breaker in 2006.
“To be fair, the record shows that the procured backhoe with breaker was not overpriced, it was delivered in good condition, and was put to use by the provincial government in its development projects,” said the decision penned by SB Associate Justice Georgina D. Hidalgo.
The decision noted that as enshrined in jurisprudence, “it is not enough that unwarranted benefit was extended to another or that there was damage to the government as a result of the violation of the procurement law.
Earlier named as respondents were former provincial Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) members Dionisio Balite, Jose Veloso, Felix Uy, Amalia Reyes-Tirol, Ester Corazon Jamisola-Galbreath, Godofreda Olavides-Tirol and Frances Bobbith Cajes-Auza.
Lawyer Handel Lagunay, engineers Edwin Vallejos, Abraham Clarin and Greta Mende, Laura Saramosing Boloyos, and Felix Mejorada were charged as members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).
Former Vice Gov. Concepcion Lim and SP members Ma. Fe Camacho-Lejos and Brigido Imboy were initially included in the charge sheet but the cases against them were dismissed when they died during its pendency.
According to the information in the case, docketed as SB-19-CRM-0153, the officials violated Section 3 (e) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019 as amended when they conspired to give unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to the supplier, Civic Merchandising Inc. (CMI) in the amount of P74,498,15 by procuring the heavy equipment through a letter or credit, authorizing the use of government funds to open the letter of credit, tantamount to payment before delivery which violates the procurement law.
In its 41-page decision, the court stated that after judicious scrutiny of the attendant circumstances, the court found no evidence to show that the BAC members acted with evident bad faith or manifested partiality in the performance of their duty.
At the same time, the decision observed that the SP members did not have any notice that there was an irregularity in the bidding process as they were not privy to the bid documents used by the BAC which conducted the procurement.
It added that there is no evidence that CMI was granted unwarranted benefits as the opening of a letter of credit does not automatically translate that payment has already been made.
The court also noted that conspiracy between the BAC and SP members was proven.
According to the decision, it is necessary that the acts constituting the elements of a violation of RA No. 3019 “must be effected with a corrupt motive, a dishonest design or some unethical interest – which to the mind of the court, are clearly wanting in this case.”
In a separate concurring decision, 7th Division Chair Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta pointed out a “gaping hole” in the charge when “not a single documentary evidence” was offered by the prosecution to proof of payment and neither did any of the prosecution’s testimonial evidence touch on this subject.
“To sustain liability under Section 3(e) of RA 3019, it must be shown that (1) the violation of procurement laws caused undue injury to any party or gave any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference; and (2) the accused acted with evident bad faith, manifest partiality, or gross inexcusable negligence,” the concurring decision said.
The 7th division chair noted that “an assessment of the elements of the offense charged cannot even begin, when the missing evidence to prove them in the first place never took off.”