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Analysis, Cebu Politics, Local Governance

Merci’s ‘sacrificial lambs’ in Cebu lamppost scandal

Mayor Teddy Ouano and Mayor Boy Radaza. Sacrificial lamps?

Wrong officials charged to protect real culprits?

By Emmanuel Mongaya
(Journalist & Blogger)

When the Cebu lamppost scandal erupted years ago, I have been a lonely voice asking why the Ombudsman investigating the case focused on local officials and not those in Manila who approved and stood to benefit from the transaction.

I believe then, more so now, that these local officials were merely scapegoats to protect national officials. The damage control operation happened during the watch of the Arroyo administration’s loyal Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Recently, these questions are being asked again. And I am happy to share the following quotes from other respected opinion-makers of national broadsheets with you, my dear Politika 2013 readers:

Neal Cruz, As I See It
Philippine Daily Inquirer
and Pinas.net (January 12, 2012)

Graft charges filed against wrong people

“Since day one, the local officials insisted they did not directly participate in whatever contracts the DPWH entered into for the installation of the lampposts. The Ombudsman nevertheless filed graft charges against them but not against officials of the DPWH then headed by Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. The investigation was started during the time of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Both Gutierrez and Ebdane were favorites of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”

Jarius Bondoc, Gotcha
Philippine Star (January 13, 2012)

“Remember the case of the P403-million Metro Cebu overpriced streetlights in 2007? Remember how 1,800 decorative lampposts were erected in Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu Cities at P224,000 apiece, when theunit cost was only a third at P83,000? Remember how the anomaly marred Metro Cebu’s hosting that year of the ASEAN Summit?

Well, the Ombudsman for Visayas has filed criminal raps before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. Impleaded were the city engineers of the two cities, and several past and reelected officials. Also, certainproject officers of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Region VII (Central Visayas).

But wait. There’s persistent talk that while the Cebuano “cohorts” are frying, the big fish from the DPWH central office in Manila got away  again.

The small fry are crying because, as local officials, all they did was prepare, on instructions of higher-ups, a program of works and estimates for budgeting purposes. They had no role in the bidding and purchase. Payment was to be drawn from the Motor Vehicles Users’ Fund, per a memo between the then-DPWH secretary and the Road Board executive director. The locals also did not sign for any project implementation or completion acceptance, or release any money.”

Condrado Banal, Breaktime
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sacrificial lamps

“For signing a piece of paper, a number of local officials in Cebu are facing arraignment before the Sandiganbayan.

They include former local officials of two cities in Cebu—Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu—who were already indicted for graft, accused of overpricing lamp posts that were installed in those cities. The installation was an apparent attempt by the cute administration of Gloriaetta at beautification of those two cities, in time for the Asean conference there in 2007.

It seems the local officials have become the sacrificial lambs.

Here is what I found out: The officials, and even those in the regional office of the DPWH in Cebu, had nothing to do with the bidding for the contract for the project. From what I gathered, everything was done at the main office of the DPWH, at that time still headed by former Public Works and Highway Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane.

Okay, members of the DPWH committee that handled the bidding were charged in separate cases, but for whatever reason that only the Ombudsman could say, no top official of the department was included in the case.

Incidentally, the Ombudsman office for the Visayas has insisted on the investigation of top DPWH officials. The Ombudsman has already elevated the case to the Sandiganbayan. Nothing came out of it.

And so the Sandiganbayan is arraigning only the former local officials of Cebu, including city engineers, DPWH regional personnel and the contractors.

Still, the local governments had nothing to do with the bidding whatsoever. The DPWH main office in Manila did everything. In the first place, the local governments did not even ask for the project. It was basically just rammed down their throats by the DPWH main office in Manila, because the cute administration wanted to beautify the venue for the Asean conference.

The indicted local officials did only one thing: They signed a piece of paper called POWE, or the “program of works and estimates,” which was also prepared by—who else—the DPWH main office.

After all, the money would come, not from the local governments, but from the national government.”

Mary Ann Ll. Reyes, Hidden Agenda
Philippine Star (January 18, 2012)

“On the other hand, whatever happened to the order of Gutierrez to investigate the possible involvement of DPWH top officials led by Ebdane, Undersecretary Salvador Pleyto, and Assistant Secretary Rafael Yabut to the anomalous transaction?

Ombudsman Visayas, in its May 4, 2009 Supplemental Resolution as approved by Ombudsman Gutierrez, reiterated the investigation on the alleged involvement of said DPWH Central Office officials for using an alternative method of procurement. To date, nothing has come out from the Ombudsman Central Office about its investigation on the alleged involvement of said DPWH officials.

Perhaps, the Sandiganbayan has its own way of spotting the right culprits and would not allow any sacrificial lamb to suffer.”

About anol_cebu

As chief digital officer of PRworks Inc., Emmanuel Mongaya manages the digital communications of the public relations agency. He also blogs, writes columns for Sun.Star Cebu and Superbalita, and serves as administrator for “Maghisgot Kitag Politika Bay,” Cebu’s dynamic political community in Facebook.

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