By Felipe V. Celino
ROXAS CITY, Capiz – The graft and corruption charges that became a major issue behind the downfall of the reelection bid of former Capiz Governor Esteban Evan Nonoy Contreras were recently junked by the Office of the Ombudsman.
A copy of the 28-page decision dated February 20, 2023, was provided to the Daily Guardian on August 25, 2923.
The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the charges filed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan against Contreras, former Provincial Administrator Edwin Monares, and former Roxas Memorial Provincial Hospital (RMPH) chief Dr. Edmarie Tormon for lack of merit.
The case against medical supplier and businesswoman Nizzi Billedo of NGB Marketing was also junked for lack of jurisdiction.
The four were charged for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. 3019), Government Procurement Reform Act (R.A. 9184), and Malversation of Public Funds or Property (Article 217 under Revised Penal Code), including NGB Marketing owned by Billedo.
According to the Ombudsman, “…there is insufficient evidence that public respondents were either directly or indirectly, interested for personal gain, or had material interest in the subject procurement projects. They only discharged the functions of their office and there is no evidence showing that they did not perform their duties with regularity. Moreover, the procurement for hemodialysis supplies was urgently needed by RMPH in view of the alarming increase in the number of patients requiring hemodialysis brought by the pandemic. And contrary to the allegation of complaint, the transactions with NGB Marketing were not shown to be manifestly unlawful, inequitable or irregular.”
The Ombudsman said that the small value procurement (SVP) is allowed as a matter of efficiency and emergency situations.
“Clearly, respondents resorted to SVP in order to carry out procurement in an efficient and economical manner, not only in addressing the medical needs of patients undergoing dialysis treatment but also for the mitigation and containment of the transmission of COVID-19, apart from the fact that the amounts involved were within the threshold prescribed by law.”
Also, Contreras could not be liable for malversation and plunder as there was no evidence that could pin down the former governor.
“…apart from insufficiency of evidence to prove that Contreras amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth, there is no combination or series of overt or criminal acts to speak of.”
Besides, there was no evidence to charge Contreras for Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, Dishonesty, Grave Misconduct, Gross Neglect of Duty, and Incompetence and Inefficiency in the Performance of Official Duties.
“… the complaint for Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, Dishonesty, Grave Misconduct, Gross Neglect of Duty, and Incompetence and Inefficiency in the Performance of Official Duties necessarily fails. The pieces of evidence failed to satisfy the requirement of substantial evidence against public respondents.”
On the part of medical supplier Billedo, the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
It is of public knowledge that on March 9, 2020, then Pres Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation No. 922 declaring a State of Public Health Emergency throughout the Philippines following the confirmation of local transmission of COVID-19 in the country.
To support the government’s effort to mitigate, if not contain the transmission of COVID-19, the Commission of Audit-Government Procurement Policy Board (COA-GPPB) Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 was issued allowing procuring entities to resort to negotiated procurement under Section 53.2 of RA 9184’s implementing rules and regulations for the procurement of goods, infrastructure projects and consulting services that are related to the mitigation and containment of the transmission of COVID-19 in order for the PEs to properly and timely respond to a public health emergency.
The charges were filed against the four respondents in November 2021, six months before the May 2022 national and local elections.
Many believed that the graft and corruption issues affected the election bids of the Contreras family who were running for the different local posts.
Contreras lost his reelection against former Capiz Second District Representative Fredenil Castro.
Most members of his family running in the local posts also lost.
The cases were filed by vice governor James Mitang Magbanua, provincial board members Jonathan Besa, Enrique Martin, Thea Faith Reyes, Weldie Apolinario, Mateo Hachuela, Elmer Arevalo, Michelle John Patricio, and Renzo Teves.
The complainants have yet to comment on the decision of the Ombudsman.