BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
Former Iloilo City mayor, Mansueto Malabor (1992 – 2001), appears least guilty but he is treated the guiltiest by the Ombudsman fiddling with the “Pavia Housing Scandal”.
The project rolled in 2000 with P125 million debt via bond flotation that the Philippine National Bank (PNB) assumed. Public bidding was done and Malabor signed the contract with Ace Builders owned by Alex Trinidad with authority from the SP.
With that, Iloilo City would stand as the first in the Philippines to invest huge sums for its employees. That did not happen though. The next year 2002, the “Pavia housing scandal” blew up after a subcontractor decried he was underpaid and subcontractors used substandard materials to adjust to the pittance from Ace Builders.
That same year, the city council created an investigating committee that became “committee of the whole” that is, its membership is the entire legislature.
The committee wound up in 2003. Its chair, Raul Gonzalez, Jr. announced they recommended among others, filing graft charges against certain officials and the contractor. That included Malabor, who by then was a private citizen. The report recommended rescission of the contract and suing for damages.
In 2005, the Ombudsman-Visayas finished its investigation and recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against the respondents to include Malabor and his successor, Mayor Jerry Trenas. The Ombudsman-Visayas, then under Primo Miro, further recommended the suspension of the respondents.
Nothing happened; by some fluke, OIC deputy ombudsman (Visayas) Virginia Palanca-Santiago turned over all records of the case to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez who replaced Leonardo Marcelo.
Gutierrez, abetted by Palanca-Santiago, sat on the case. She resigned in disgrace in April 2011 without resolving the mess.
August 20, 2011, Orlando Casimiro, Overall Deputy Ombudsman released the Ombudsman’s decision on the Pavia housing scandal. He recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against Trenas et al.
However, that same day, Casimiro issued a conflicting order: he spared Trenas, city administrator Melchor Tan and city engineer Romeo Bravo from the criminal information by ordering Pelagio Apostol, deputy ombudsman (Visayas), to further investigate to determine “probable cause”.
November 21, 2011 was D-Day for Trenas, Bravo and Tan: the Ombudsman freed them from criminal liability.
Here, the Ombudsman orders “set aside” criminal information sans condition to deepen investigation and absent any legal or factual basis for that order. Its vagueness is construed in favor of the accused, as any student of law knows.
Here is one case where the apparently least guilty gets the ax and the guiltiest freed. The Ombudsman and its ilk should go back to grade one section 10 to learn what even non-law students know: probable cause which is a set of facts and circumstances that leads one of average intelligence to conclude that a crime has been committed and the accused is probably guilty thereof.
Malabor’s term ended in July 2001. His successor Trenas implemented the project. Malabor’s only participation was to request the depositary bank PNB to pay Ace Builders for mobilization as the contract dictated.
Payment for projects funded by “bond flotation” is done by the bank, in this case, PNB as conduit, directly to the contractor.
Trenas, however, changed the nature of indebtedness, from bond flotation to direct loan and transferred bank from PNB to Veterans Bank. The transit cost P12 million, ballooning the loan from P125 million to P137 million.
With “direct loan”, Trenas directly pays the contractor. He disburses up to P90 million to Ace builders although the charge sheet reads that he has paid only P43.8 million.
Trenas neither rescinds the contract nor sues Ace Builders as recommended by the city council. He still continues paying the erring contractor which has already abandoned the project without finishing not even one of the target 413 housing units.
Malabor is accused for violating Section 3, (e) of RA 2019 or Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act that punishes violators for giving undue benefits to any private entity, injuring others in the process, especially government. The Ombudsman’s August 2011 and November 2011 resolutions sloppily skirted Malabor’s alleged illegal acts.
Assistant Ombudsman Palanca-Santiago did come to Iloilo to investigate in compliance with the August 2011 order but talked only with Trenas, bewails Malabor.
Pio R. Dargantes, Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II, penned the November 21, 2011 resolution. It was reviewed by Palanca-Santiago, recommended for approval by Apostol, and approved by Carpio-Morales.
May they live forever.
(I am correct after all in my 46-series piece in calling Virginia Palanca-Santiago, “embalmed version of Mommy Dionisia, a moral pygmy whose sense of right and wrong is as revolting as her looks.”)