OMBUDSMAN Conchita Carpio-Morales has approved the filing of graft and grave misconduct charges against former Health Secretary Enrique Ona and two others over a P392-million hospital project in Pangasinan.
The Ombudsman said Ona, Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and Assistant Secretary Nicolas Lutero 3rd conspired in calling for the rebidding of the Region 1 Medical Center hospital modernization program even after the project was already awarded to Northern Builders Inc. (NBI), to accommodate the protest of losing bidder Specified Contractors & Development Inc. (SCDI).
SCDI was disqualified for failure to comply with the agency’s detailed estimate requirements in September 2012 but the company filed a motion for reconsideration, which was eventually denied by a Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC).
The P392-million project was then awarded to NBI on August 23, 2013, and SCDI did not file an appeal.
Instead, SCDI filed a letter-complaint before the Office of the President alleging anomalies in the procurement project, a complaint that prompted Ona to task Lutero to conduct a fact-finding investigation on the matter.
Herbosa then sent a letter to fellow Health official Mejia asking him to nullify the issuance of the notice of award to NBI and to continue with the post-qualification of SCDI on September 16, 2013.
Ona also issued a cease and desist order to Mejia on September 30, 2013 pending the investigation of the SCDI complaint.
The Department of Health conducted a new bidding for the project in December 2013.
“When the SCDI did not file any protest or appeal, the SBAC’s resolution had become final and respondents could no longer intervene and issue a Cease and Desist Order,” the Ombudsman’s ruling said.
“While Ona had the power to investigate any infractions or violations committed by its employees including the members of the SBAC, this does not mean that he could simply invalidate and declare null and void the proceedings and decisions made by the SBAC without observing the provisions of the Government Procurement law,” it explained.
“This Office is convinced that Ona, Lutero and Herbosa conspired with one another in giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to SCDI,” the ruling said.
In addition to the criminal charges, the Ombudsman also said Ona, Herbosa and Lutero were liable for grave misconduct, ordering them dismissed from the service and imposing the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of retirement benefits.
In case of separation from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to the respondents’ one-year salary.