Graft court convicts ex-NIA chief over Dato dam project
By Mark A Gomez
The 5th Division of the Sandiganbayan has convicted the former administrator of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and sentenced him with imprisonment of six to eight years, penalized him with perpetual disqualification to hold public office and to pay the agency P98.5 million.
The graft court issued the decision against Engr. Carlos Salazar, the former NIA administrator who approved the implementation of the Libmanan-Cabusao Dam Project (LCDP) during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (PGMA).
To recall, sometime in 2008, AM Oreta won in public bidding the P712.3 million contract for the construction of the LCDP, a priority project of PGMA and her son, Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Dato Arroyo.
The Regional Development Council (RDC) in Bicol, then chaired by Albay Governor Joey Salceda, endorsed the project on Feb. 9, 2009 to the National Economic Development Authority – Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC) for review and approval.
As a standard procedure, government projects worth more than P500 million is subject to review and approval of NEDA-ICC.
In a 61 pages decision promulgated on June 24,2022 by the Sandigangbayan in People of the Philiipines vs Carlos S. Salazar and Ricardo Khan under Crim. Case No. SB-18-CRM-0407, the court established that Carlos Salazar released the total amount of P98.5 million to A.M Oreta in May and September, 2009 as advance payments even without the approval of NEDA-ICC of the LCDP.
According to decision, the prosecution has established the guilt beyond reasonable doubt of Salazar on three elements:
First, Salazar was the administrator of NIA at the time material to this case and his acts were done in the discharge of his office.
Second, he acted with gross inexcusable negligence when he issued a notice to proceed despite the absence of the NEDA-ICC approval.
Third, Salazar’s gross inexcusable negligence caused undue injury to the government.
In his defense, Salazar said that the LCDP is a priority project of Malacañan and that he received a memorandum on October 6, 2008 indicating it was an “irresistible force” which he could not ignore.
In response the Court pointed out that he could not excuse himself from liability by claiming that higher authority used irresistible force, threat or intimidation upon him. The court added that the president just instructed NIA to shorten the bidding process.
On the other hand, the court acquitted his co-accused, private respondent Ricardo Khan Jr., vice president of construction firm A.M. Oreta and Co. Inc., due to the failure of the prosecution to prove that he conspired with Salazar.
The NIA Board of Directors eventually rescinded the contract for the LCDP due to strong opposition from local communities and environmental groups.
A NIA official in Bicol said Salazar is going to appeal the decision of the graft court.