Graft indictment vs Abaya, 16 others set aside

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    THE Ombudsman has reversed its resolution issued May 8, 2018 that found probable cause against former Transportation secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and 16 others in a graft complaint concerning alleged irregularities in the P4.25 billion Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) maintenance contract in 2016.

    In a 49-page resolution signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, the anti-graft body granted the motions for reconsideration filed by Abaya and his co-respondents challenging the sufficiency of evidence to support the filing of a criminal case in court.

    Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the recommendation of a panel of investigators to indict Abaya for violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act together with Undersecretaries Edwin Lopez, Rene Limcaoco (head of the Negotiating Team) and Catherine Jennifer Francis Gonzales (vice-head, Negotiating Team);

    MRT3 General Manager Roman Buenafe, assistant secretary for procurement Camille Alcaraz, MRT-3 Bids and Awards Committee vice chair Ofelia Astrera, legal officer Charissa Eloisa Julia Opulencia, Engineering Division chief Oscar Bongon, and engineer Jose Rodante Sabayle.

    Likewise ordered charged as private defendants were Eldonn Ferdinand Uy of Edison Development and Construction, Elizabeth Velasco of Tramat Mercantile Incorporated, Belinda Tan of TMI Corporation, Inc., Brian Velasco of Castan Corporation, and Antonio Borromeo, Jun Ho Hwang and Elpidio Uy from Busan Universal Rail, Inc. (BURI).
    In dismissing the case, the review panel said it found the evidence supporting the indictment insufficient to stand in court.

    The panel was composed of Deputy Special Prosecutor Omar Sagadal; directors Gil Felix Hidalgo and Ruth Laura Mella; and graft investigation officers Anjuli Larla Tan-Eneran and Anthony Endrenal.

    It also affirmed the dismissal of complaints against former Secretaries Manuel “Mar” Roxas II (Transportation), Florencio Abad (Budget), Cesar Purisima (Finance), Carlos Jericho Petilla (Energy), Mario Montejo (Science and Technology), Voltaire Gazmin (Defense), Rogelio Singson (Public Works), and Arsenio Balisacan (Economic Planning) for lack of probable cause.

    In the 2018 ruling, the Ombudsman said the contract was awarded to Busan Joint Venture (Busan JV) but this entity did not materialize as the supposed members did not enter into a formal Joint Venture Agreement (JVA), contrary to R.A. No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

    Investigators said it was only Eldonn Uy of Edison Development and Construction that executed a “statement to enter into a Joint Venture” although he claimed to be the authorized representative of all the members of the Busan JV.

    The assailed ruling held that there being no joint venture to speak of, the Busan JV should have been disqualified outright.

    Abaya was held liable as head of the Department of Transportation and Communications exercising supervision and control over the officials under him and being “primarily responsible for all government funds and property pertaining to his agency.”

    On evaluating the respondents’ appeal however, the Ombudsman said it found that the Busan JV “had, in fact, complied with all the requirements” to qualify as the winning bigger for the MRT-3 maintenance contract.