By: Alex P. Vidal
“In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett
WHEN comebacking Janiuay, Iloilo mayor Frankie Locsin decided to run again in the recent May elections, he probably had no idea his appeal in his February 2015 Sandiganbayan conviction for graft would be denied by the Supreme Court.
Thus he suffered hypertension when National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents arrested him on June 3, 2019 and was rushed to the Western Visayas Medical Center (WVMC) in Mandurriao district in Iloilo City.
No one from among Locsin’s family and political team had expected the arrest to happen three weeks after he won back the mayoral post in the midterm elections.
Locsin, who had been semi-retired from politics, probably was prompted to run again when he had an inkling the Supreme Court wouldn’t give him a favorable verdict; or, he must’ve thought it was the best “remedy” for the time being.
Sadly, even his becoming mayor again didn’t save him from the higher court’s guillotine.
In a graft case that stemmed from medicine purchases of the local government of Janiuay using P15 million from Sen. Vicente Sotto’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) way back in 2001, Locsin and five others were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or Republic.
A supplier whose accreditation had been suspended by the Department of Health (DOH) and wasn’t supposed to be qualified in the bidding, cornered the multi-million medical supply contract.
The Sandiganbayan First Division also convicted Accountant Locsin’s co-accused Carlos Moreno Jr., Budget Officer Ramon Tirador, Treasurer Luzviminda Figueroa, Ricardo Minurtio, and businessman Rodrigo Villanueva.
They were sentenced to a jail term of from six to 10 years and perpetual disqualification from public office.
The Sandiganbayan had ordered arresting officers to bring Locsin to the anti-graft court based in Quezon City “as soon as possible, to be dealt with as the law and Rules of Court direct.”
There were three participants – AM Europharma Corp., Mallix Drug Center and Philpharmawealth Corp.–when a bidding was held on January 15, 2001.
Philpharmawealth, however, denied participating in such a bidding.
The Office of the Ombudsman, which investigated the transaction, noticed the apparent haste in the process when the P1.7-million purchase contract was awarded to Mallix Drug Center.
AM Europharma was awarded with a P13.1-million contract approved by Locsin. The medicines were immediately delivered the next day, Jan. 16, 2001.
Supply Officer II Gabriel Billena inspected the purchases which were fully paid on January 17, 2001.
The Ombudsman raised the red flag on the deal’s propriety after fing out that the heads of the AM Europharma Corp. and Mallix Drug Center were one and the same – Rod D. Villanueva.
Ombudsman noted that Villanueva was the sole proprietor of Mallix Drug Center and also the general manager and president of AM-Europharma.
“The Court finds…conspiracy between accused public officials (and) members of the municipal Committee on Awards of Janiuay…as shown by their respective signatures in the Minutes of Meetings which awarded the subject procurement of medicines in favor of AM Europharma and Mallix Drug which gave undue advantage to accused Rodrigo Villanueva, owner and proprietor of said companies,” part of the anti-graft court’s decision read.
The 34-page Sandiganbayan decision dated Feb. 23, 2015 was penned by Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada and concurred by First Division Chairman Efren dela Cruz and Associate Justice Rafael Lagos.
The Sandiganbayan stated that “there was unanimity of purpose and intent on the part of said accused officials to consummate the said procurement in favor of accused Rodrigo Villanueva as shown by the undue haste that attended the delivery of the medicines and the speed with which the payments for the said medicines were made…and even without the latter or his companies posting the required 10 percent performance bond, knowing fully well that there was a failed bidding because of AM Europharma’s DOH suspended supplier’s accreditation, that the government was not able to secure the lowest possible price for the said bidders…”
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)