“IGNORANCE of the law excuses no one.”
With this pronouncement, the Sandiganbayan convicted former Maasin, Iloilo municipal mayor Mariano M. Malones, and his two co-accused of graft despite his claim of unfamiliarity with RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Law.
In her 48-page ponencia, Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta, chairperson of the Seventh Division, said that Malones cannot be allowed to seek refuge behind his feigned ignorance of the law since he has been mayor for six terms or a total of 18 years.
The court said there was enough evidence to show that there was no public bidding in the municipality’s purchase of 666 bottles of liquid fertilizer in 2004, that the contract cost of P1,500 per bottle or a total of P999,000 was overpriced by 900 percent, and that the transaction did not undergo mandatory review by the Bids and Awards Committee.
Given his “extensive experience” as a local chief executive, the court said the accused is expected to know and understand the law.
“On this basis, he should have been aware of the mandatory requirement of public bidding in the procurement of the liquid fertilizer. The fact that the subject purchase met the full approval of accused Malones …leads to the conclusion that the transaction in question was tainted by irregularities from the outset,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Malones was sentenced to six to 10 years in jail and perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
Likewise pronounced guilty of the same offense were former municipal accountant Cecilio Montefrio and OIC accountant Jimmy Borra.
Records showed the municipality of Maasin used P999,000 it received from the Department of Agriculture under the P728 million Fertilizer Fund to buy Bio-Nature Organic Liquid Fertilizer at P1,500 per bottle supplied by Feshan Philippines Inc. in August 2004.
Graft investigators and government auditors questioned the choice of the brand, noting that other organic liquid fertilizers were available in the market for as low as P150 per bottle.
The information filed in 2016 alleged that there was an overprice totaling P889,110 “more or less” which the court affirmed noting that fertilizer brands Freegrow and Vegegrow were being sold at only P150 per bottle which is way below the P1,500 per bottle approved by Malones even allowing for a 10 percent cost variance.
“In other words, there would have been a price disparity of P889,110 which clearly would have been advantageous to the Municipality of Maasin,” the court pointed out.
The Sandiganbayan said it is convinced that the intent of the accused was to give unwarranted favor to supplier Feshan Philippines Inc.