Freeman Region

Ombuds indicts governor, solon, 14 others for graft

Ric V. Obedencio - The Freeman

TAGBILARAN CITY , Philippines– The Ombudsman has reversed the earlier dismissal of the case and approved instead a resolution to charge incumbent and former Bohol officials, including Governor Edgar Chatto and then governor, now Representative Rene Relampagos (1st district), for graft and corruption.

Chatto, who was then vice governor at the time of the filing of the case in 1999, Relampagos and 14 other provincial officials and a private person were charged for violation of section 3, paragraph (g) of Republic Act 3019, as amended, known as Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the privatization of the then Capitol-owned Provincial Public Utilities Department.

Besides Chatto and Relampagos, the other respondents to the case are Provincial Board Members Tomas Abapo Jr., Arnold Lungay, Felix Uy, Isabelito Tongco, Eufrasio Mascariñas, Exequiel Madriñan, Francisco Alesna Sr., Severino Caberte (deceased), Concepcion Lim, who is now vice-governor, Renato Lim (deceased), Lemuel Digal, former provincial legal officer Inocentes Lopez, former planning officer Juanito Cambangay (deceased) and Salcon owner Dennis Villareal.

Not included in the charges are then PB members Godofreda Tirol and Roberto Cajes who abstained from voting for the endorsement of the joint venture with Salcon. Tirol is now an incumbent PB member, while Cajes once served as congressman of the 2nd district of Bohol.

The complainants are lawyers Victor de la Serna, Zotico Ochavillo, Nerio Zamora (deceased), Paulino Clarin, Alexander Lim, Aster Apalisok-Piollo and Myrna Trabajo Pagsuberon, and Andres Sarmiento, Sofronio Corloncito, Wilfrido Gatal, Zenaido Rama and Zenaida Darunday.

They filed the case sometime in 1999 before the Ombudsman, docketed as OMB-VIS-CRIM-2000-1040, against the provincial officials for undervaluation of assets — power and water systems — of PPUD when this was privatized to the disadvantage of the government.

Dela Serna, who once served as OIC governor of Bohol, said he did not expect the reversal of the case that the Ombuds dismissed at the time for lack of merit.

Deputy Special Prosecutor John Turalba, who recommended the filing of charges against the respondents, signed the resolution on August 5, last year, but Ombudsman Morales signed it only last August 5. The resolution was only received by Dela Serna last September 16, or more than a year after it was promulgated.

The Freeman tried but failed to contact Chatto, who was still in Cambodia for a tourism event, and some PB members, who were out of town to attend a convention in Mindanao.

Relampagos, for his part, told The Freeman in an interview yesterday that he was surprised the case was resurrected many years after it was dismissed on February 22, 2001 by the Ombudsman itself under the then acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro for lack of ground “to justify their indictment in court.”

In the resolution, signed by Casimiro, the Ombudsman in dismissing the case stated: “The respondents have shown that if only against the impressive value the subject utilities have the potential to achieve, which unfortunately for the present time is a mere projection, there can be no undervaluation to speak of as in fact it would be quite propitious for the province to be able to dispose of the utilities at the cost of the Salcon consortia offered to pay despite their negative worth.”

Relampagos said there might be some sort of “blatant disregard of circumstances” on the part of the Ombudsman now in reversing its earlier decision. He was surprised because after the case was dismissed in 2001, there was no motion for reconsideration from the petitioners afterwards.

Relampagos said that, during his time as governor, Bohol entered into a joint venture with Salcon firm to solve the perennial problem of water and electric services used to be run by the provincial government. He said the power rates at present, under the management of the Bohol Light Company, is the lowest in the province.

Both the power and water utilities, being run by Bohol Water Utilities, Inc., serve the city area only for now, he said, adding that after their privatization the province has already earned about P45 million, representing 30 percent in shares from the two private firms, under the joint venture agreement. (FREEMAN)











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