FAILURE to conduct public bidding in a government transaction does not automatically amount to a criminal offense where there are circumstances justifying so, the Sandiganbayan has said.
With this argument, the anti-graft court’s Sixth Division acquitted from graft charges former Professional Regulation Commission chairperson Teresita Manzala, commissioner Alfredo Po, Financial and Administrative Services officer Sarah Edna A. Tabije, PRC-Baguio regional director Teofilo Gaius M. Sison, and Accounting Division office-in-charge Tricia D. Camara.
The charges were filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2017.
They were accused of conspiracy in approving an anomalous office space lease contract in 2012 and giving unwarranted benefits to the owner of CTLL Building which was allegedly pre-selected as the new address of the PRC Baguio Regional Office without holding the required public bidding.
Prosecutors said the release of P6.7 million payment to building owner Ernesto delos Santos was questionable due to the lack of concurrence by the Bids and Awards Committee.
But in the 77-page decision penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez, the court held that the key elements of the criminal charge were not satisfactorily proven by the prosecution evidence.
Associate Justices Karl B. Miranda and Kevin Narce B. Vivero voted in concurrence.
Based on testimonies and documentary exhibits offered during trial, PRC-Baguio officials were notified in 2012 by the Court of Appeals that the commission should begin transferring to a new address since the court will require the use of the space it was occupying at the time.
Manzala sent the building owner a letter of intent on July 20, 2012 informing the latter of PRC’s interest in renting office space at the CTLL Building.
The other PRC officials were named co-defendants for allegedly facilitating the transfer of some furniture and equipment to the leased space even before the execution of the contract.
A member of the PRC Bids and Awards Committee testified that the panel was informed that the PRC-Baguio had already completed its transfer to the new address even while it was still preparing the bidding documents.
The Sandiganbayan however said RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act allows alternative modes that do not require public bidding like the one resorted by the PRC which was negotiated procurement.
Even as it noted that the action of the accused public officials was colored by irregularity due to non-observance of the procedures by the letter, the court held that the decision to do away with a public bidding was justified.
It pointed out that the presiding justice of the CA had personally notified the PRC that the space being occupied by the agency had to be vacated for the court’s use.
“The evidence shows that the resort to negotiated procurement was justified. Thus, the accused could not have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence for not conducting competitive public bidding,” the court pointed out.
It noted that while it would have been more prudent for Manzala to wait for the conclusion of the BAC’s processes, she had reason to act the way she did.
“Considering that the BAC appears to have been at a loss, not having previously handled such kind of procurement, doing so would have caused more delay… and would have placed PRC Baguio in a situation where it would be at risk of having to choose operations,” the court pointed out.