SC reverses Ombuds ruling, orders case vs. mayor, treasurer, contractors
() - February 9, 2009 - 12:00am

CEBU – The Supreme Court has reversed a recent decision of the Ombudsman-Visayas, which cleared from graft charges Valencia, Negros Oriental Mayor Rodolfo Gonzales Jr., two other public officials, and two private contractors.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno concurred with the decision of the SC First Division that the Ombudsman Visayas erred when it cleared from charges Gonzales, Valencia municipal treasurer Rolando Obanana, provincial attorney Erwin Vergara, and private contractors Alex Abelido and Dominador Abelido.

The complaint for alleged violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act against the respondents was filed by the owners of New Bian Yek Commercial Inc.

Together with the reversal, the Supreme Court directed the Visayas Ombudsman to file charges against the respondents, except against Vergara. The case stemmed from the contract entered into by the Valencia municial government and the private contractors for the construction of a water project sometime in 2000.

The contractor’s project engineer Jaime Lu ordered metal pipes and some other equipment worth P2,816,590 from New Bian Yek Commercial, but the checks he issued to pay for the equipment allegedly bounced.

Despite a series of demands, Lu allegedly ignored the same, which prompted the store owners to ask respondent Gonzales not to release the retention money for the private contractors.

Under the rules on government procurement, retention money is a form of security that seeks to ensure that the work is satisfactorily done and on schedule.

Unsure of what to do, Gonzales referred the matter Vergara who subsequently opined that the municipality can release the retention money to the private contractors because the owners of Bian Yek Commercial allegedly failed to prove that the pipes purchased from the store were used in the water project.

The owners of Bian Yek then filed a case for Sum of Money before the trial court, which later issued a Writ of Attachment prohibiting the town officials from releasing the retention money to the private contractors, but Gonzales and Obanana just ignored the court order and gave more weight to Vergara’s legal opinion.

This prompted the store owners to lodge a complaint before the Ombudsman Visayas, but the anti-graft body dismissed the complaint for lack of merit.

The Supreme Court, however, reversed the Ombudsman ruling but said Vergara should be absolved from the case because the records showed that he issued the legal opinion before the court issued the Writ of Attachment.

“As a general rule, the court does not interfere with the Ombudsman’s determination of whether or not there is probable cause against the respondents, but the court only exercises its power of judicial review when the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion such as when he ignores the clear sufficiency of evidence to support a finding of probable cause,” the SC said. — Rene U. Borromeo/JMO (THE FREEMAN)

ALEX ABELIDO AND DOMINADOR ABELIDO BIAN YEK BIAN YEK COMMERCIAL CHIEF JUSTICE REYNATO PUNO COURT ERWIN VERGARA GONZALES OMBUDSMAN VISAYAS SUPREME COURT VERGARA WRIT OF ATTACHMENT
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