Red flags prompted probe into Region 1 hospital bid

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(Second of two parts)

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THE 2013 bidding for the modernization of the Region 1 Medical Center (R1MC) raised another red flag that led to the internal investigation handled by lawyer Nicolas Lutero 3rd, who was then assistant secretary-designate of the Department of Health (DOH).

Documents obtained by The Manila Times showed that then Health secretary Enrique Ona may have been misled by R1MC officials in connection with the hospital renovation project.

On June 6, 2013, Ona was asked to witness presentations for the upgrade and modernization of four regional hospitals, including R1MC, that were up for his approval.

Specified Contractors and Development, Inc. (SCDI) was announced in that meeting as the “lowest calculated responsive bidder” for the R1MC project, with its bid of P360.9 million, records showed.

At that point, construction firm E.M. Cuerpo, Inc., which submitted a bid of P333.9 million, was already “post-disqualified,” or disqualified after the opening of bid envelops. The remaining bidders, aside from SCDI, were Northern Builders, Inc., which submitted a bid of P366.2 million; Green Asia Construction and Development Corp., which submitted a bid of P366.6 million; and C.E. Padilla Construction, Inc., which submitted the highest bid, at P389.9 million.

In August 2013, however, the special bids and awards committee, composed of chairman Dr. Gary Ong, vice chairman Aldrin Bigay and members Cristita Ibasan, Tristan Juaiting and Jhon Solomon, also post-disqualified SCDI for its supposed failure to submit detailed cost estimates.

Ona was thus surprised that the contract was awarded by R1MC chief Dr. Joseph Roland Mejia on August 20, 2013 to Northern Builders, and without his final approval, unlike similar contracts involving three other regional hospitals that went to the lowest calculated responsive bidders.

Mejia gave the notice of award to the Tarlac-based Northern Builders even if the bidding committee resolution that he used as basis was signed by just two out of five members, Juaiting and Solomon, and was not signed by either the chairman or vice chairman as required by the rules.

The R1MC chief admitted he signed the notice of award, upon the advice of a lawyer, even if the bid committee resolution was just a “draft,” records showed.

“From the foregoing circumstances, it is clear that there are lapses in the observance of procedures in the conduct of the procurement. The [Special Bids and Awards Committee’s] requirement of an elaborate detailed estimate as part of the bidders’ financial proposal is more than the minimum requirement set under [the revised implementing rules of the Procurement Reform Act],” Lutero said in his investigation report dated October 31, 2013.

“Also, Dr. Mejia’s issuance of Notice of Award without the recommending approval of the DOH Cluster Head and the final approval of the Secretary of Health … violates [the revised implementing rules of the procurement law]providing for the contract approval by the higher authority,” he added.

Lutero recommended the declaration of a failure of bidding, again citing the revised implementing rules which states that the head of the procuring entity, in this case Ona, has the right to reject any and all bids, declare a failure of bidding, or not to award the contract if the bid committee is “found to have failed in following the prescribed bidding procedures.”

Lutero also recommended “looking into probable administrative violations committed in the conduct of the said procurement.”

Records showed that while Lutero recommended the declaration of a failed bidding for the R1MC modernization project, he did not recommend the awarding of the contract to SCDI.

“I would have been remiss in my duties if I just allowed the DOH to enter into a clearly flawed contract with [Northern Builders],” he pointed out in his counter-affidavit submitted to the Ombudsman in February 2014.

For the Ombudsman, however, these actions amounted to a conspiracy to give undue advantage to SCDI, and already constituted corruption and gross misconduct punishable by dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public service.

Ona, Lutero and their other co-respondent, former Health undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, may still file motions for reconsideration before the Ombudsman and thus get another chance to clear their names.

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