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Ex-PNR execs face raps over railroad ties made of wrong wood

The Ombudsman said the PNR bought railroad ties made of larch, a soft wood, when the bidding documents specified they should be made of yakal, a hardwood. File photo
MANILA, Philippines — Former high-ranking officials of the Philippine National Railways, including its former chief, are facing graft charges over the allegedly anomalous purchase of substandard railroad ties. 
 
The Office of the Ombudsman has filed charges of two counts of violation of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court against former PNR General Manager Junio Norberto Ragragio.
 
Named as his co-accused in the cases are former division managers Rosendo Calleja, Abdul Aziz Pangandaman, Estelito Nierva and Ruben Besmonte, assistant department manager Divina Gracia Dantes, principal engineers Cesar Bocanog and Mario Arias and legal counsel Neofito Perilla.
 
Based on charge sheets prepared by graft investigation and prosecution officer Leilani Tagulao-Marquez, Ragragio, in conspiracy with the other then PNR officials, approved the release of payments totaling P47,134,980 to Nikka Trading, with office address located at Cityland Herrera Tower at Salcedo Village, Bel-Air in Makati.
 
The payments, released in two batches, were for the purchase of 10,490 pieces of bridge ties, 942 pieces of joint ties and 41 sets of switch ties all made of larch, a kind of soft wood, imported from China.
 
The first payment amounting P37,747,832 was supposedly released to Nikka Trading through a disbursement voucher dated March 4, 2013 and a Veterans' Bank check dated April 26, 2013.
 
The second payment amounting P9,387,148, meanwhile, was allegedly released through another disbursement voucher also dated March 4, 2013 and Development Bank of the Philippines check dated March 7, 2013.
 
The ombudsman said the purchased items were substandard as the PNR Board Resolutions as well as all the bidding documents, specified that all the ties to be procured must be made of yakal, a kind of hard wood usually used in railroad.
 
The ombudsman said the respondents gave “unwarranted benefits, preference and undue advantage” to Nikka Trading by still accepting the items even if they did not comply with the product specifications “to the damage and injury of the PNP or the government”.
 
The case information sheets were approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on May 19, 2017 but were only filed before the Sandiganbayan on November 7.
 
 
The ombudsman recommended to the Sandiganbayan to set the respondents' bail bond at P60,000 each.
 
Set to testify against Ragragio and his co-accused were ombudsman field investigation officer Herald Rivera, Commission on Audit  supervising auditor and former PNR corporate auditor Mayola Salita and former PNR Administrative Services and Finance Department chief Teresita Gorospe.
 
The cases stemmed from a complaint filed by the Citizen Crime Watch (CCW) Bicol chapter before the ombudsman in April 2014.
 
The wood ties purchased by the PNR were supposed to be used in the rehabilitation of Bicol Express tracks.
 
The Commission on Audit, in 2014, had also issued a Notice of Disallowance against Ragragio and the other PNR officials in connection with the softwood ties purchase.
 
The COA, in its notice, noted that the purchase of larch wood ties, imported by Nikka Trading from Manshouli, China, did not comply with the bidding and procurement contract which required the delivery of first-class hardwood yakal.
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