Monico’s computer case acquittal draws ‘surprise’

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Several Bacolod officials were surprised to learn of the decision of the Sandiganbayan Monday acquitting former Bacolod mayor Monico Puentevella over the controversial purchase of P26-million IT (information technology) computer packages for public schools from 2002 to 2006.

            Punong Barangay Jose Ma. Leandro Norberto “Lindy” de Leon of Barangay Vista Alegre and Punong Barangay Anthony Loth “Anjo” Ayco of Barangay 15 both said they could not believe that the Sandiganbayan would acquit Puentevella, given the obvious facts and strong evidence against the former mayor.

            The letter-complaint against Puentevella was initiated by local broadcaster Donard Nojas in February 2007, which became the bases of the case filed by the City Legal Office, then headed by the late Atty. Allan Zamora.

            The Sandiganbayan said it acquitted Puentevella and his co-accused Jessie Garcia, president of Merryland Publishing Corp. that supplied the IT computer package, “for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

            Yet, Ayco said, the Sandiganbayan failed to consider in its decision the Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) of the Commission on Audit (COA).

            In its 34-page decision, the Sandiganbayan quoted the testimony of COA state auditor Jona Salubta, who said that as per AOM, “COA made the following recommendation: requiring the supplier to rectify the defects or deficiencies in the package and deliver the lacking items to the end users.”

            “The cost of one IT computer package appears to be exorbitant or excessive because the training component was not conducted,” it added.

            The IT computer package is worth P400,000, or a total of P26 million that were purchased using the Priority Development Assistance Fund of Puentevella.

            Basing on the AOM, Ayco said, it can be deduced further that aside from being defective, there was also under-delivery of the said IT computer packages.

            De Leon, for his part, said the IT computer package worth P400,000 each was certainly “overpriced” – and all the more exorbitant since it was purchased from 2002 to 2006.

            In addition, the Sandiganbayan also cited the testimony of Ofelia Demegillo, then the resident auditor of DepEd-6 regional office that, at the time of purchase of the said IT computer package, “the procurement in packages through exclusive distributorship proved uneconomical because some contents of the package such as television sets and computers could be locally procured through public bidding at much lower prices. Also, the package costing P400,000 in particular is highly priced relative to its content.”

            “The audit team assessed that the program of computerization failed to achieve its desired results… From the observation of the audit team, the package price of P400,000 each is exorbitant relative to its content,” Demegillo added.

            De Leon therefore asked, “If each computer package is worth P400,000, it is expected to be of high quality. But where are these computers now? Are they still functional?”

            Part of the Sandiganbayan’s order was the testimony of Pedro Crispe Jr., then the OIC-Principal of Kabugwason Elementary School, who said “the school was able to use the computer package for educational purposes for a period [of] six months only because the computer malfunctioned after the school decided to install Microsoft word application.”

            “The school called the Office of then Congressman Puentevella for assistance but the school did not receive any response,” Crispe added.

            Considering these testimonies as cited by the Sandiganbayan, the IT computer package was indeed “overpriced, defective, and under-delivered,” Ayco said.

            And yet the Sandiganbayan acquitted Puentella of the charges against him, he said.

            “For me, this is a dangerous precedent. It sends the wrong signal to LGUs that it is okay to purchase computers worth P400,000 each and still not be held accountable by the Sandiganbayan despite the COA rulings,” Ayco added.*

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