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Binay, wife face P232-M graft case

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, his wife Elenita and nine other people were charged with graft by the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday before the Sandiganbayan for alleged irregular purchases worth P232 million.


The Office of the Ombudsman said it found "probable cause" to indict the couple along with nine city officials and company executives for the purported anomalous acquisition of office partitions and furniture for the Makati City Hall from 1999 to 2001.


Binay, who has not yet received the copy of the Ombudsman’s findings, vowed to fight the case. "We will face this directly," he told reporters.


A staunch critic of President Arroyo, Binay has said he believes the issues involving alleged ghost employees and anomalous purchases at city hall were being used by the administration against the opposition.


Assistant Ombudsman Mark Jalandoni ruled out politics as the reason behind Binay’s indictment, saying the case had been filed "long way back."


"And now it has been resolved," Jalandoni stressed.


Facing graft charges along with Binay and his wife for allegedly violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan are former Makati City councilor Salvador Pangilinan, city administrator Nicanor Santiago Jr., former city treasurer Luz Yamane and general services department chief Ernesto Aspillaga.


Also charged were Li Yee Shing, Jason Li, and Vivian Edurise, all corporate officers of Office Gallery International Inc. (OGII); Beda Aquino, chief executive officer, and Bernadette Aquino, corporate officer of Asia Concept International Inc. (ACII), and several John and Jane Does.


According to the Ombudsman, government auditors found that the purchases for the new Makati City Hall were overpriced by P53,905,638.54. And there were excessive purchases worth a total of P50,142,558.56, "resulting in undue injury to the government" in the total amount of P110,249,869.07.


The case against Binay and the others stemmed from a graft complaint filed by former Makati City vice mayor Roberto Brillante based on a report by the Commission on Audit (COA) on contracts that involved the purchases.


Last July 27, Brillante filed an urgent motion with the Office of the Ombudsman calling for the anti-graft body to resolve the criminal complaint he had filed against Binay three years ago in relation to the purchases.


In his four-page motion, Brillante questioned why the Office of the Ombudsman had merely treated as an administrative case the complaint he had filed against Binay and his wife on Oct. 23, 2003 and "ignored" its criminal aspect.


Named by Brillante as respondents in his complaint were Binay, his wife, Panganiban, Santiago, Yamane and Aspillaga.


According to Brillante, based on COA documents, Panganiban, Santiago, Yamane and Aspillaga were members of the Makati City government’s committee on awards chaired by then Mayor Elenita Binay.


Brillante said he had included Binay in his complaint because the alleged irregular purchases continued when he assumed the post of city mayor.


Binay’s first tenure as city mayor was from 1987 to 1995. His wife served one term from 1995 to 1998, after which the husband was back at city hall in 1998 for another set of three terms that will end when the midterm elections are held next year.


Binay is the second opposition mayor in Metro Manila to be investigated by the Ombudsman. Pasig City Mayor Peewee Trinidad and 11 of his councilors were probed and subsequently suspended for six months over alleged irregularities during bidding for a garbage contract.


Binay earlier said he had received reliable information that he was next in line as administration target after Trinidad.

Irregularities

In its investigation, the Ombudsman said the biddings and awards through negotiation/repeat order of five Purchase Orders (POs) to OGII and ACII in the total amount of P231,576,189.71 were highly irregular.


Based on records, on Sept. 15, 1999, the Committee on Awards informed the OGII that it had won in a public bidding conducted on Sept. 17, 1999 for the procurement of office partitions and furniture for the new Makati City hall building. This was covered by PO No. 9989 in the total amount of P72,065,037.25.


From December 1999 to February 2000, the officials "willfully, unlawfully, and criminally award(ed) through a Repeat Order," based on the alleged simulated/rigged bidding, to the same company the procurement of office partitions and furniture amounting to P13,253,587 covered by PO No. 10473.


Relative to PO No. 11106 in the amount of P21,700,000 the officials conducted a "public bidding" on Aug. 16, 2000 participated in by ACII, OGII and Vonjaspher Enterprises. However, it was found out that the suppliers were owned and managed by the same person.


The concerned officials also awarded through an "unjustified negotiated purchase" to OGII the procurement of office partitions and furniture amounting to P60,302,228.22 covered by PO No. 11570.


According to the Office of the Ombudsman, these officials conducted a public bidding on Sept. 5, 2001 for the purchase of partitions and furnishings of the Makati City Hall, but the two participant-bidders, namely, OGII and MFT International Co., have been found to be one and the same company.


The third company, ACII also appeared to be owned by the same person who owns OGII, the Ombudsman said.


Aside from the graft charges, the Office of the Ombudsman also ordered the dismissal from the service of Santiago and Aspillaga for gross misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.


The Office of the Ombudsman said the administrative complaint against the mayor was dismissed by virtue of his re-election to public office. The administrative complaint against his wife Elenita, Pangilinan and Yamane was likewise dismissed considering that they are no longer in government service.


According to the Office of the Ombudsman, further investigation would be conducted to determine the possible culpabilities of other Makati City officials who may have participated in the transactions.


Jalandoni said there was no preventive suspension imposed on Binay as the case was already set for resolution at the time Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez assumed her post.


He, however, said the Sandiganbayan could still impose a preventive suspension on the mayor as the case is being tried. — With Michael Punongbayan, AFP

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