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Ombudsman clears Leonardia, 7 others of graft, admin charges

“What a great blessing to receive at Christmas time!”

Thus said Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia in reaction to his belated receipt Monday of the Joint Resolution approved by Ombudsman Sammuel Martires on August 6, 2019 yet, dismissing graft and administrative charges filed against him and 7 other city officials.

These cases docketed as OMB-V-C-17-0192 and OMB-V-A-17-0185 were filed by the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas on the basis of a 2009 complaint of Sarah Teresa Esguerra and Othello Ramos for which respondents were required to file their counter-affidavits only in 2017.

Leonardia further said, “This is another of the many political harassment cases that Sarah Esguerra and Othello Ramos had launched against us over the years. As well-known supporters of that former city mayor of Bacolod, we know what their motives were when they filed the complaint in 2009, before an election year.”

The seven other respondents in the case were former city accountant Eduardo Ravena, then secretary to the mayor-designate Goldwyn Nifras, former vice-mayor Renecito Novero, former city administrator Lorendo Dilag, former vice-mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson, former OIC/Management Audit Services Office Ricardo Dahildahil, and former Secretary to the mayor Rogelio Balo.

THE OMBUDSMAN RULING

In its Joint Resolution, the Ombudsman ruled that it found no sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of probable cause against Leonardia, et. al. for violating Section 3 (e) of R.A. 3019, as amended.

Neither did the Ombudsman find substantial evidence that respondents were guilty of the administrative charges of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and for Grave Misconduct.

The Joint Resolution dismissing the cases were co-signed by officials of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, all of whom recommended the dismissal of the cases. 

The Ombudsman officials were Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Carla Michelle Chaves-Gonzaga, who penned the Joint Resolution, director Jane Aguilar of the Preliminary Investigation Administrative Adjudication and Prosecution Bureau-B, assistant Ombudsman-Visayas Carla Juris Narvios-Tanco, and Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Paul Elmer Clemente.

THE COMPLAINT

Complainants Esguerra and Ramos alleged that Leonardia, et al, violated the Government Procurement Law, way back in 2007, when they allowed periodic mostly small-value purchases then of various materials necessary for the continued day-to-day operations of the Bacolod City Government through reimbursement basis and not through the modes allowed under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Law.

Complainants’ primary evidence was a COA audit observation in 2007 calling the attention of the Bacolod LGU then that the procurements should have already been made under RA 9184 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.

Esguerra and Ramos further alleged conspiracy among the respondents claiming that the latter connived with each other to defraud the government with these reimbursements for personal gain.

THE DEFENSE

The combined defenses of the respondents, however, demolished the malicious allegations of Esguerra and Ramos. 

They argued that: (1) Reimbursements were a mode of procurement relied upon many years before by past administrations, and were not previously disallowed by the COA; (2) reimbursements are not illegal per se because, even with the advent of RA 9184, such were not totally outlawed in government operations or absolutely prohibited by any government regulation.

Respondents further pointed out that in 2007, Bacolod, like other LGUs then, was still in the process of transitioning from the old to the new procurement methods and LGUs were then still getting trained for it by the Government Procurement Policy Board.

The reimbursement transactions covered mostly small-value procurements. In 2007, these were not yet covered by the IRR of RA 9184. So respondents had to continue using the reimbursement system, as a stopgap measure, until the rules on procurement finally provided in 2009 the guidelines for small-value procurements, or 2 years after the reimbursements questioned had taken place.

Respondents further pointed out that sincere efforts were also taken to reduce the number of reimbursement transactions after 2007, and the Bacolod LGU was no longer issued notices of suspension or disallowance by the COA for such transactions.

They also said that all the questioned reimbursements were for legitimate, necessary, regular and valid expenditures of the Bacolod LGU, and the reimbursements never injured any party, especially the city, as price canvass was observed in all these reimbursements; negating any charge of partiality, bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence.

Aside from failing to prove their allegation of conspiracy, complainants also never established that the reimbursements were for bogus or “ghost” transactions without corresponding deliveries, or that the reimbursements were made against falsified documents. The Ombudsman dismissed both the criminal and administrative charges for lack of sufficient evidence that would fulfill all the elements of the crime under Section 3 (e) of RA 3019, as amended. It ruled further that while “check payments were made to different payees yet there is no indication that the goods procured were not delivered. Thus, there was no evidence that undue injury was caused to the government or that respondent/s or any party benefited from the lack of public bidding in the procurement of the subject goods,” the Ombudsman decision further said.*

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