June 21, 2024

The Office of the Ombudsman has cleared officials of the Baguio City District Engineering Office (BCDEO) of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the contractor of the Bonifacio Street improvement project of allegations of violating the Anti Graft Corrupt Practices Act and for administrative charges for neglect of duty. 

In a resolution dated May 26 and received by the BCDEO only on Sept. 6, Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Yasmin Soraya Masukat said complainant Mayor Benjamin Magalong has failed to show proof that officials of the BCDEO led by District Engineer Rene Zarate violated Section 3g of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the revised civil service rules on the performance of duties of civil servants.

Section 3g prohibits public officials from entering into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.

In a complaint filed on July 5, 2022, Magalong has alleged that BCDEO put taxpayers at a disadvantageous position when it allowed WEG Construction owned by private respondent Wilfredo Gopeng to proceed with the improvement of Bonifacio Street when based on the inspection of the City Engineering Office and the City Buildings and Architecture Office, the contractor was delayed in the implementation of the project and has been using substandard materials.

The mayor said instead of cancelling the contract and blacklisting WEG Construction, the BCDEO gave undue favor to the contractor by extending for 60 days the 120-day project duration.

The investigating prosecutor said nothing in the contract showed the government has been put at a disadvantage.

“Complainant is questioning the acts of the respondents in the implementation of the contract, not the terms of the contract,” the OMB said.

Pieces of evidence submitted to the Ombudsman also showed the inspectorate team of the BCDEO has issued notices of violations to the contractor with corrective measures that should be implemented within a time period.

As certified by the Commission on Audit, WEG Construction has complied with the BCDEO directive, the contract price of P10 million was reasonable, and liquidated damages of P36,374 has been deducted from the total contract price.

The OMB added extension of the contract was also warranted as the delays were due to circumstances beyond the control of the contractor such as transfer of electric poles by the Benguet Electric Cooperative, cutting of trees by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and accommodation of additional works as requested by the residents near the project site.

The investigating prosecutor said the complaint filed should have been violation of Section 3e or giving undue advantage to a private party by allowing use of substandard materials; but just the same, this will also be dismissed as evidence submitted by the BCDEO showed that the materials used by the contractor are compliant with the DPWH Standards Specifications for Project Quality Assurance.

It said mere visual inspection by the CBAO and CEO are not enough bases to conclude that the materials have poor quality. “No undue injury was suffered by the city of Baguio because the project was completed albeit delayed. The project is now benefitting Baguio City,” a portion of the resolution states.

The administrative complaint against the BCDEO officials for gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service was also dismissed as there is no evidence to show that Zarate and the other respondents Asst. District Engineer Glenn Reyes, Procurement Unit head Tedler Depaynos, Jr. Planning and Design head Cesario Rillera, Quality Assurance Section head Gil Nuque, Maintenance Section head Nora delos Santos, Construction Section head Alfredo Bannagao, Jr. were negligent of their duties, neither did they tarnish the image and integrity of their office. – Rimaliza A. Opiña