Cebu News

Toledo City attorney indicted for graft

Gregg M. Rubio - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — The Office of the City Prosecutor has filed a graft case against Toledo City's legal officer for allegedly demanding five percent of the contract price of two projects awarded to a contractor.

Attorney Hazan F. Bargamento, in his capacity as Toledo City Bids and Award Committee chairman, is facing a criminal case of violation of Section 39(b) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act of 1960) before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Toledo City.

This was after City Prosecutor Raul Cesar Bajarias approved last Oct. 25 the resolution penned by Assistant City Prosecutor Milagros Lequigan-Piol finding enough grounds to put Bargamento to trial in court and setting a P90,000 bail.

RTC Branch 29 Presiding Judge Ruben Fermin Altubar of Toledo City issued the warrant of arrest against Bargamento on Nov. 16.

Last Friday, Nov. 24, Bargamento voluntarily presented himself before authorities and posted the required bail for his temporary liberty.

The case against him stemmed from the complaint filed by Novo Dalapo, a Toledo City Government project contractor.

Bargamento, as BAC chairman, allegedly notarized the contract between Toledo City, represented by Mayor Marjorie Perales, and Novo Dalapo Construction, the winning bidder of two projects worth P5.9 million.

Despite the contractor's plea to have the contracts notarized by its in-house counsel to save cost, Bargamento allegedly intentionally withheld the contracts and instead notarized it himself, charging five percent of the contract price as fee.

Bargamento allegedly then threatened to delay collections if the contractor would not pay.

In a sworn statement, Cerinia Apurado, the construction firm's finance officer, said that in the guise of notarial fees, Bargamento requested from her “5%” of the contract price, which she said she paid on installment basis, which was recorded in their accounting ledger.

In his counter-affidavit, Bargamento categorically denied all allegations, arguing that the contractor was motivated by ill-will for being repeatedly disqualified from winning millions of pesos worth of government infrastructure projects, despite allegedly resorting to name-dropping and influence peddling.

Bargamento alleged that the complaint was a retaliatory act because, among others, he turned down the contractor's "illegal requests".

The investigating prosecutor, however, found his arguments unnecessary because “these are not material to the case and not an element to R.A. 3019.”

“As per observation, the position of the respondent as BAC Chairman is very delicate and subject to public scrutiny; thus, he must avoid acts that would cast doubt on his integrity,” the investigating prosecutor stated.

She said that Bargamento even admitted that there was an observation by the Commission on Audit that there might be conflict in his notarial services, being a BAC chairman, for which reason he issued a memorandum to Attys. Jean Gacang and Katherine Louise Alburo to secure a notarial commission.

As to Bargamento's claim that he was only constrained to notarize the contracts because the mayor could not appear before the contractor's notary public, he "(h)owever,...proceed(ed) to notarize the contracts even if Novo Dalapo, the authorized representative of Novo Dalapo Construction, was not present".

The investigating prosecutor also gave weight to the "undisputed facts" that Bargamento issued no receipt to Novo Dalapo Construction on the amount paid for his notarial fees and that the legal officer's name is reflected in the contractor's ledger as recipient of an amount of money.

“Thus, even if Cerinia Apurado and Novo Dalapo may have fabricated stories to discredit and destroy respondent to get back at him for refusing to accommodate their illegal request to respondent with regards to bidding procedures, as sworn to by Engr. Winceslao Martinez, still it did not negate the fact that, in the guise of 'notarial fees' he probably requested 5% of the contract price,” read the resolution.

Apurado's sworn statements and the 13-page ledger convinced the investigating prosecutor that probable cause exists to bring Bargamento to court.

“All the allegations of the complainant can be threshed during a full-blown trial, wherein the respondent will have to change to cross-examination the witnesses that may be presented by the prosecution. So, whether the respondent is innocent or guilty, is entirely for the Court to determine and decide,” further read the resolution. — (FREEMAN)

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