‘OMB Express’ runs over NIA chief

Suspension meted 12 days after receipt of anonymous complaint; CCWI to test 'Antiporda Doctrine'

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SAYING they are “encouraged” by the very swift action taken by the Ombudsman in the complaint against National Irrigation (NIA) administrator, Benny Antipoda, the Crime and Corruption Watch International (CCWI), said it expects no less than the same expeditious treatment from the anti-graft body on the latest graft and corruption cases it filed last November 21, 2022, against two ranking officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

“While anti-corruption watchdogs like the CCWI find the OMB’s very fast action in suspending Antiporda as highly surprising if not irregular, we also find it encouraging to realize now that the OMB, if it really wanted to, can swiftly act on any complaint,” said CCWI national president/chairman, Carlo Batalla.

Suspension issued in just 12 days

The records of the 4 complaints against Antiporda now showed that the last complaint, filed by an unnamed ‘concerned citizen,’ was received by the Ombudsman only last November 3, 2022, and 12 days later, last November 15, 2022, Ombudsman Samuel Martires personally signed and released Antiporda’s suspension, effective immediately.

This led to pundits describing that Antiporda was run over by the ‘OMB Express.’

These actions by Martires, noted Batalla, were the “first time” that they know of to have been committed by a sitting Ombudsman in the entire 44-years history of the anti-graft body. The Ombudsman, originally named ‘TanodBayan,’ was created by President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos in 1978 under Presidential Decree (PD) 1487).

Another ‘first time’ for the Ombudsman is the creation of a ‘special panel’ by Martires to specifically deal with an administrative complaint against a public official, observers added.

Batalla had earlier warned that Martires is courting impeachment by Congress over his decision in Antiporda’s case (see Pinoy Exposé, November 20, 2022), a decision that raised a lot of eyebrows even among lawmakers (see also, Pinoy Exposé, November 19, 2022).

The Ombudsman only furnished Antiporda with a copy of the complaints against him one week after he was suspended, last November 21, 2022.

The first complaint received by the Ombudsman last August 31, 2022, for “gross misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, oppression, harassment and gross ignorance of the law” and covering 12 pages, was purportedly lodged by the unnamed “officers and members” of the NIA employees association.

However, last November 16, 2022, a day after Antiporda’s suspension became known, the NIA Employees Association of the Philippines (NIAEASP), denounced and “categorically disowns and denies” the group’s inclusion in the complaint.

“The NC (National Council) did not issue any authorization to its chapters and district officers and members all over the country to initiate such action against Administrator Antiporda. If ever there are NIAEASP officers or members who are complainants to the case, they did so in their personal capacity,” said NIAEASP president Eduardo Yu.

He further noted that only last September 3, 2022, the NIAEASP even issued a resolution expressing their “solid support” to Antiporda and his leadership.

“That resolution (Resolution No. 13-2022) still stands and remains unchanged,” Yu added.

The second complaint filed by NIA chief lawyer, Lloyd Allain Cudal, was received by the Ombudsman last October 4, 2022, followed last October 7, 2022, by the complaint filed by Michelle Gonzales-Raymundo, former NIA Board secretary.

Significantly, both complaints also raised, exactly, the same issues against Antiporda purportedly made by NIAEASP.

Cudal and Raymundo were also sued before the Ombudsman by Antiporda last September 15, 2022, and October 18, 2022, respectively, for graft and corruption involving some P205 million in public money.

While Martires had already suspended Antiporda, it has yet to act on the complaint against Cudal, which was filed more than two months previously.

In the case of Raymundo, the Ombudsman has resorted to its usual procedure of asking both parties for a preliminary hearing scheduled this November 25, 2022.

Batalla said that based on their experience, it would “normally” take the Ombudsman some 6 months before it even considers any complained public official as meriting suspension.

In one of the cases Batalla filed involving the amount of P20 million against Camarines Sur second district congressman, LRay Villafuerte, Batalla noted that it took the Ombudsman 2 years before it imposed a 90-days suspension on Villafuerte on the administrative aspect of his complaint—while dropping the criminal aspect of malversation of public funds.

The fourth and final complaint against Antiporda was filed last November 3, 2022, by an unnamed “concerned citizen” who also claims to be an “employee” of NIA. The complainant also accused Antiporda of basically the same allegations raised by the three previous complainants.

In just 12-days since the Ombudsman received the anonymous complaint against Antiporda, Martires personally signed the suspension of Antiporda for 6-months without pay.

‘Antiporda Doctrine’

Based on the foregoing, Batalla said they now expect the Ombudsman to adopt what he termed as the ‘Antiporda Doctrine’ in treating all complaints, especially the more than “400 cases” of graft and corruption the CCWI filed, majority of them against officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The latest was filed by Batalla only last November 21, 2022, against 2 ranking officials of the DPWH for graft and corruption (RA 3019) and violation of the code of ethical standards for government workers and officials (RA 6713).

Respondents to the cases are, Maximo Carvajal, undersecretary for technical affairs and former chairperson, Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), DPWH and Ma. Victorio Gregorio, OIC-Director, Procurement Services and head of the DPWH’s BAC Secretariat for Civil Works-Central Office.

Batalla pointed out that both Antiporda and Carvajal have the rank of ‘undersecretary’ that it would not be hard for the Ombudsman to swiftly act on their complaint against the latter.

Carvajal and Gregorio were accused by the CCWI of violating Section 3 of RA 3019 after awarding two “highly anomalous” contracts to the ‘Vicente T. Lao Construction’ in the aggregate amount of nearly P1.5 billion last March 23, 2022, despite fully knowing that the company is already disqualified to bid in any infrastructure project for repeated violation of RA 9184, or the ‘Procurement Law.’

Citing Section 34 of RA 9184, Batalla noted the law provides that any contractor who scored a “negative slippage” of 15 percent in any ongoing contract with the DPWH or 10 percent in each of two or more of its ongoing projects, shall already be deemed disqualified for further participation in any DPWH project.

“Contractor Vicente T. Lao Construction has an existing on-going slippage in 93 projects based on the Performance Track Record obtained from the official site of the DPWH,” Batalla told the Ombudsman, while providing details of the questionable contracts.

On the other hand, both the accused were also charged by the CCWI for violation of RA 6713 for refusing to provide the group with the details of the contracts awarded to Vicente T Lao Construction despite formal request and despite fully knowing that the CCWI is an accredited civil society (CSO/NGO) observer of the DPWH.

The CCWI was given accreditation by the DPWH in all stages of its procurement process last May 3, 2021, during the term of Secretary Mark Villar.

Batalla had previously disclosed that at least 43 contractors should have already been disqualified by Secretary Manuel Bonoan from being further awarded contracts by the department (see also Pinoy Exposé, October 24, 2022) but his revelation and appeal to Bonoan fell on deaf ears.

He added that over the years, CCWI had filed “nearly 400 complaints” for graft and corruption at the Ombudsman involving mostly DPWH officials with amount involved running into the hundreds of billions in public money “but not one has been suspended until now.”

“We are nevertheless hopeful that using the Antiporda Doctrine, the Ombudsman can now live up to its mandate of ridding the government of grafters in the most expeditious manner,” Batalla added.

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