NAGA CITY --- Quoting a principle in jurisprudence that says “fraud is never presumed but must be established by clear and convincing evidence,” Judge Pablo C. Formaran III of Branch 21 of the Regional Trial Court here has recently found all the 19 accused not guilty in the anti-graft and corrupt practices act filed against them by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Camarines Sur.
The case, which was filed 19 years ago, stemmed from the alleged anomalous concreting of Mayaopayawan farm-to-market road in Barangay San Antonio, Milaor, Camarines Sur.
The prosecution claimed that the accused government personnel who are employed in the office of the Department of Public Works and Highways, 2nd Engineering District, Baras, Canaman, Camarines Sur, and their co-accused private contractors and newspaper publisher have “conspired, confederated and mutually helped each other, with evident bad faith and manifest partiality, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously facilitate and rig the public bidding conducted” for the project.
Named in the charge sheet as accused for violation of Sec 3(e) of RA 3019 were Engr. Gilbert Olfindo, Calixto Baliatan Jr., Manuel Razal, Bernardita Budy, Amelita Fajardo, Paulino delos Reyes, Teresita Demabasa, Irma Palma, Guilbert Romero, Eduardo Alejo Jr., Luis Zamudio, Victorino del Socorro Jr., Reynaldo Rubi, Valeriano Fausto, Richard E.P. Ragragio, Caesar Moral Jr., Evangeline Jaucian, Edwin Basmayor and Regina Cyril Paraico.
The accusatory portion of the amended information filed by the provincial prosecutor dated October 16, 2008, which was duly approved by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro, says that the collusion among the accused has paved the way to favor a particular contractor and participate in the preparation, processing and approval of the documents to implement the project.
The information further revealed the collaboration among the accused in the processing and approval of vouchers and supporting documents in the release of mobilization, retention, and partial payments despite lack of paper documents and the defects in the implementation of the project.
The prosecution also indicted the DPWH personnel for allowing their names, positions, and signatures to be used in completing the cycle that lent a semblance of legality or regularity to the transaction and illegal disbursement of public fund, which were done “to give unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to contractors Evangeline Jaucian and Regina Cyril Paraico” to the damage and prejudice of the government.
Failure to present evidence
In a 19-page document which contained Judge Formaran’s verdict, the court averred that the prosecution failed to present clear and convincing evidence that would negate their good faith and overcome the presumption of regularity in the performance of their official duties.
On the alleged rigged public bidding, the court said that the Invitation to Bid prepared by the BAC that had set a deadline for the submission of requirements on June 17, 1999 had shown an Approved Agency Estimate (AAE) price of P1.5-M which could already be considered substantial compliance because the essential objective and requirements of the law were met.
When it comes to the allegation of a bloated AAE as the COA Audit Team estimated only P1,085,245.40 as the cost for the infrastructure project in contrast to the P1,419,953.75 of the BAC Price Review Group.
With regards to the prosecution’s argument that the bidder was able to submit a bid price higher than the actual cost and therefore, it has benefitted from the bloated cost. The court said: “it may be so, but there is no showing that the winning bidder had a hand in such determination by the PRG.”
It further said that “while there was divergence in the determination of the actual cost of the project between COA and BAC’s PRG, the matter does not automatically mean that the latter acted irregularly in the absence of any clear showing that its members deliberately increased the cost to benefit a favored contractor.”
On the alleged anomalous transaction in the publication of the Invitation to Prequalify and to Bid for the project to Bicol Hotline newspaper, the document said that “this court is more inclined to believe that the invitation to bid was duly published, as evidenced by the proper furnishing of the 2 libraries of RTCs of San Jose and Iriga City with newspaper issue containing the required advertisement coupled with the posting of notices in conspicuous places, a substantial compliance with the prevailing IRR of PD 1594 at that time.”
As to the numerous defects that were found out like the unsigned prequalification documents, the forged signatures of a certain Jerry Asido, the inclusion of a contractual employee of DPWH as project engineer of one of the contractors, and other discrepancies discovered by the COA Audit Team, the court, said that these [findings] must be weighed with the discretion granted by law to the concerned accused in assessing the qualifications of the prospective bidders, which they did.