COA: DA officials, Napoles liable for P11M overpriced fertilizer

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    OFFICIALS of the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit 11 (DARFU 11) have failed to convince the Commission on Audit (COA) to lift the notices of disallowance issued against the procurement of P11.28 million worth of liquid fertilizer from a company owned by convicted plunderer Janet Napoles.

    In a Jan. 28, 2020 decision, the COA affirmed its 2014 ruling that upheld the findings of the audit team that while there was no public bidding, there was evidence of overpricing in the purchase of 14,371 bottles of Prime EC Foliar Fertilizer from Jo Chris Trading in 2003.

    The COA, however, modified the ruling to exclude regional accountant Miraflor Sanchez-Garcia from the list of persons held liable for the disallowance, noting that she had no participation in the overpricing or the failure to bid out the supply contract.

    The COA has thrown out the appellants’ petition for review for non-compliance with the 180-day period for filing of appeals but later decided to relax the rules after the accused agriculture officials invoked substantial justice.

    Aside from Sanchez-Garcia, the others who joined the motion for reconsideration were regional executive director Roger Chio, legal officer Shiela Endrina, and budget officer Ma. Lorna Jamora.

    Chio claimed his participation in the transaction was merely ministerial as he simply relied in good faith on the recommendation of the bids and awards committee (BAC) composed of his co-appellants.

    Endrina said she should be excused from any liability after she made a marginal note on the BAC resolution that the contract should comply with the implementing rules and regulations of the Government Procurement reform law (RA 9184).

    The appellants had complained that while they were held liable, the COA exonerated “the guilty ones” including Napoles, and DARFU 11 BAC officers Godofredo Ramos and Francisco Agustin.

    COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose A. Fabia and Roland C. Pondoc held that save for Sanchez-Garcia’s position, the rest of the arguments lacked merit.

    “Contrary to the allegations of the movants, this Commission did not relieve Ms. Napoles, Mr. Ramos, and Mr. Agustin from liability. The COA decision affirmed (the notice of disallowance) dated July 1, 2008 in the amount of P11,281,832 without any modification or qualification,” it said.

    It overruled Chio’s contentions and maintained that he had “direct participation in the illegal expenditure” because he attached his signature on the BAC resolution that awarded the contract to Jo Chris Trading even without any public bidding.

    Endrina’s marginal note likewise failed to convince the COA to change its mind, pointing out that the scribble “cannot be construed as an objection.”

    “Moreover, the fact that she signed the BAC resolution no. 172 belies her claim that she prevented the award of the contract to Jo Chris Trading,” it said.

    Auditors uncovered the overpricing by buying the same product from ELR Family Trading, an authorized distributor of the manufacturer. While DARFU 11 paid Napoles’ firm P800 per 300ml bottle, the same item was sold at ELR Family Trading at only P75 per P300 ml bottle.

    On top of being required to refund the disallowed sum, the DA officials and Napoles will also face potential criminal and administrative charges.

    “In view of the overpricing in the procurement of fertilizers and violation of RA 9184, this case shall be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman for investigation and filing of appropriate charges, if warranted,” the COA said.