(First of two parts)
DID THE Ombudsman err in indicting three officials of the Department of Health (DOH) for stopping the allegedly anomalous awarding of a hospital modernization contract three years ago?
Documents on the case showed that the Ombudsman’s July 11 ruling indicting former Health secretary Enrique Ona, former undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, and director Nicolas Lutero 3rd ignored an investigation that found various irregularities in the bidding for the modernization of the Region 1 Medical Center (R1MC) in Pangasinan.
The ruling sided with contractor Northern Builders, Inc., who was given a notice of award for the contract despite the absence of the required approvals from Ona and Herbosa.
Lutero, whose only role was to investigate the alleged bidding anomalies and recommend a new bidding, was given the same sanctions as Ona and Herbosa: dismissal from service, perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of retirement benefits due to graft and grave misconduct.
For Ona and Herbosa who are no longer with DOH, the monetary penalty is a fine equivalent to one year’s worth of salaries.
Meanwhile, the special bids and awards committee as well as the head of the R1MC, Dr. Joseph Roland Mejia, escaped sanctions.
For the embattled Health officials, they were merely doing their duty to ensure that the requirements of the Procurement Reform Act, or Republic Act (RA) 9184, were followed in the bidding.
In the latter part of 2013, Lutero of the DOH legal service division conducted a fact-finding investigation on alleged irregularities in the bidding upon Ona’s orders.
Ona made the directive upon receipt of a copy of a letter written by Specified Contracts and Development, Inc. (SCDI) on August 28, 2013 to then President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
SCDI was among two bidders who were disqualified to join by the R1MC bidding committee.
Ona then issued a cease and desist order to Mejia against the awarding of the contract and decided to have a new bidding.
This prompted Northern Builders to file a complaint against the DOH officials at the Office of the Ombudsman on December 13, 2013, arguing primarily that SCDI was given preference by the DOH officials, as its complaint was given due course even if it did not follow the formal protest mechanism under RA 9184.
Documents obtained by The Manila Times however showed that Lutero, in an October 31, 2013 report, found “lapses in the observance of the procedures in the conduct of the procurement.”
First, the special bids committee required very detailed cost estimates, which are not the minimum requirement under RA 9184.
Second, Mejia signed the notice of award even without the approval of Ona and Herbosa as required by DOH Department Order 2013-0006.
Third, the committee resolution that supposedly authorized the award was signed by only two out of five members.
Lutero, in his defense, told the Ombudsman that he merely acted on the lawful instruction of Ona to conduct an investigation on the reported anomalies committed by the employees of R1MC.
Lutero added that the probe was done in an orderly manner, and considering the allegations of serious irregularities, Ona could not shirk from his responsibility or be limited by the provisions of RA 9184, but must take action on the complaint filed before the Office of the President.
“My conduct of investigating the complaint of SCDI is not prejudicial but redounds to the best interest of the service. The investigation sought to determine whether or not the alleged irregularities were indeed committed by R1MC and to remedy the same for the improvement of public service,” he said in his counter-affidavit submitted to the Ombudsman in 2014.
“For my part, I simple conducted an investigation and did not commit any concealment or distortion of truth in a matter of fact relevant to [my]office or connected with the performance of [my]duty,” he added.