FORMER Department of Public Works and Highways-Regional Office 7 (DPWH-RO7) regional director Robert Lala and 11 other defendants have been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan of a 10-year old graft charge pertaining to allegations of overpricing in the P19.98 million procurement and installation of decorative lampposts in Mandaue City in 2006.
In a 25-page decision, the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division said the prosecution failed to prove its allegations of conspiracy among the defendants and the supposed overpricing despite the testimony of a technical audit specialist from the Commission on Audit.
Acquitted besides Lala were DPWH-RO7 Bids and Awards Committee chairperson Marlina Alvizo and BAC members Pureza Fernandez, Cresencio Bagolor, Augustinito Hermoso, Luis Galang, Ayaon Manggis, Marillyn Ojeda, Teresa Berdino, Hidelisa Latonio, and Gregorio Omo together with private defendant Isabelo Braza, president and chairman of contractor-supplier Fabmik Construction and Equipment Supply Company Inc.
Government prosecutors accused them of giving unwarranted benefits and advantage to Fabmik by skirting procurement regulations contrary to the provisions of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The Office of the Ombudsman likewise claimed that there was an overprice of at least P6.13 million based on the Audit Evaluation of the COA that determined the contract cost to be worth only P13.85 million.
While government witnesses testified that the transaction did not undergo public bidding, the Sandiganbayan declared that the rules allow alternative modes of procurement including negotiated purchases, under certain circumstances.
It noted that the decision to forego public bidding was made by then DPWH acting Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. on the basis of urgency due to time constraints and the onset of the rainy season.
Defense evidence cited that the project was part of the preparations for Mandaue City’s hosting of the 12th ASEAN Summit in the latter half of 2006.
“In other words, accused did not exercise any discretion as to the budget and mode of procurement and that they commended pre-procurement proceedings for the supply and installation of street lighting facilities without deviating from the directives of their superiors,” the court noted.
It stressed that “mere erroneous judgment does not equate to evident bad faith” as the prosecution is required to establish “palpably and patently fraudulent and dishonest purpose …or conscious wrongdoing for some perverse motive or ill will.”
“Absent any discretion exercised by the accused, it could not be said that they acted with malicious intent,… self-interest or ill-will, or for ulterior purposes,” the court added.