Dismissed BFAR chief, others to face graft raps

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered graft charges filed against former Department of Agriculture (DA) officials over the alleged irregularities in the awarding of a P2.097-billion contract to British company SRT Marine Systems Solutions Ltd. – United Kingdom (SRT-UK) in 2018.

In a 25-page resolution made public yesterday, the ombudsman said it found probable cause to indict former DA undersecretary for fisheries Eduardo Gongona, former Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) national director Demosthenes Escoto and SRT-UK chief executive officer Simon Tucker.

Escoto was ordered dismissed as BFAR director last April 11 over the same matter.

The three will be charged with two counts, each of violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly causing undue injury to the government and giving unwarranted benefit, advantage, and preference to a private firm.

They were also ordered charged with one count each of violation of Sections 3 (g) and 3(j) of RA 3019 for allegedly entering into a contract manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government and for supposedly granting license, permit, benefit or privilege to an unqualified person or entity.

“Escoto, Gongona and Tucker had apparently schemed to ultimately award a contract to SRT-UK that is disadvantageous to the government. The series of events that came prior to the award are circumstantial evidence proving that an irregularity had been committed and they are probably guilty thereof,” the resolution read.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman dismissed the complaints against DA Assistant Secretary Hansel Didulo and Richard Hurd of SRT due to the lack of probable cause.

The complaint was filed by lawyer James Mier Victoriano after the contract to supply vessel monitoring system transmitters and transceivers for BFAR’s Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System Project Phase II (PHILO Project) was awarded to SRT-UK.

The PHILO project aimed to strengthen BFAR’s capability to monitor the country’s maritime resources by requiring all commercial fishing vessels to install a monitoring system showing their location at sea.

The supply contract was initially awarded to an unqualified bidder, SRT-France, before it was cancelled and awarded to parent company SRT-UK.

“The sudden creation of SRT-France a month before the second bidding; the permission to SRT-France to participate in the bidding despite knowledge that will have to depend on SRT-UK’s technical, professional and financial capabilities; the sudden termination of the award to SRT-France for some baseless reason; and the immediate request for the cancellation of the French loan by DA-BFAR in order to remove the French-related conditions – all these paved the way for SRT-UK to participate in the bidding – a bidding for a project with an expanded scope and increased project cost,” the resolution explained.

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