Four top officials of the provincial government were placed under a 90-day preventive suspension by the Ombudsman following its investigation of a complaint filed by a private contractor over a canceled bidding of a project in 2015.
Provincial information officer Atty. Gil Acosta confirmed the suspension order of the officials, all members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the provincial government, during a briefing with reporters Tuesday.
Covered by the preventive suspension order were Provincial Legal Officer and BAC Chairman Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, Budget Officer Norma Arrieta, General Services Officer Analyn Rolian, and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Atty. Noel Aquino.
Acosta said the case stemmed from a decision of the BAC to cancel the bidding in 2015 of metal cutters for use of the provincial government’s Rescue 165.
Acosta said the committee canceled the bidding process because the Technical Working Group (TWG) that was supposed to conduct a technical evaluation of the purchase requirement failed to submit its report.
“Ang defense ng ating mga BAC members that time ay hindi bumalik sa kanila (TWG) para magkaroon ng final decision. Ang nangyari dito in the end, na-cancel na ‘yong kontrata, walang nanalong iba at hindi na inulit ‘yong pag-bidding,” he said.
A private contractor who was participating in the bidding, Armada Rescue and Safety Equipment Corporation, reportedly filed both criminal and administrative complaints against the BAC officials.
The preventive suspension order will precede an investigation by the Ombudsman on the administrative liability of the officials concerned. Meanwhile, Atty Matta said the Ombudsman had dismissed the criminal aspect of the complaint.
Armada is a distributor and dealer of rescue and safety equipment based in Diliman, Quezon City. Its chairman, Edwin V. Fernandez, declined to issue a statement when contacted by Palawan News.
“Nagreklamo ‘yong bidder kasi ang sabi nagkaroon daw ng delay, then nagkaroon na ng basis ang Ombudsman kung saan ang kanilang order ay immediate executory pending appeal and motion for reconsideration,” Acosta said.
The officials’ suspension period will last between February 1 to April 30, 2018.
Acosta said they will appeal the suspension order by the Ombudsman, describing the decision as “too harsh” for a case of “simple neglect”.
“Ang sabi ng Ombudsman it was their (BAC) fault kung bakit nagtagal. Pero kami dito sa kapitolyo naniniwala na wala silang kasalanan kasi kung BAC member ka umaasa ka lang doon sa TWG at sa secretariat, which at this point hindi lumabas kaya hindi na-discuss at hindi napagdesisyunan ng BAC kung anong gagawin doon sa procurement,” he said.
Acosta stressed that the administrative suspension did not involve any issue of corruption.
“Hindi ito dahil sa corrupt practices. Ang findings nila ay simple neglect. Iba kasi ang connotation ng tao kapag may case ka sa Ombudsman kaya paulit-ulit na paliwanag natin na ito’y walang halong corruption,” he said.
Aside from Matta and three other BAC members, 3rd District Rep. Gil Acosta was also included in the suspension order as he was a member of the BAC in 2015 as provincial information officer.
Atty. Michelle Marie Acosta, speaking for Rep. Acosta, claimed, however, the Ombudsman cannot suspend Rep. Acosta because he has no disciplinary authority over “officials who may be removed only by impeachment or over Members of the Congress, and the Judiciary” under Section 21 of Republic Act 6770 or The Ombudsman’s Act of 1989.
“He is a part of BAC that time pero ‘yong specific actions na ginawa ay wala. Hindi pwedeng i-apply o implement kay Congressman kasi walang jurisdiction ang Ombudsman sa administrative cases pagdating sa mga members ng House of Representatives,” she said.