SORSOGON CITY – The Office of the Ombudsman has approved the filing of graft charges against Sorsogon Gov. Raul Lee and eight others in connection with the alleged anomalous implementation eight years ago of the province’s Distance Learning Center Program (DLCP) that involved a total amount of P22 million in funds sourced from bank loans.
Despite spending all the money, no DLCP was ever implemented and the circumstances behind it constituted violations of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, graft investigator Clarisa Tejada said in a 24-page resolution dated May 12 (copy of which obtained by the PNA over the weekend) recommending the filing of the complaints.
Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro approved the recommendation last May 23, paving the way for the filing with the Sandiganbayan of the charges that was made to wait for more than five years after the original complaint was filed with the Ombudsman in 2006 by provincial board member Rebecca Aquino.
Lee was a political supporter of then president, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and although the governor ran under her KAMPI party in the 2010 local elections, he campaigned for Nacionalista Party’s standard bearer Sen. Manny Villar.
Other respondents include Provincial legal officer Antonio Huab, Engr. Arnie de Vera of the Provincial Engineering Office, Teresita Paladin of the Provincial General Services Office and Rosie Agnes, the Provincial Budget Officer who were all members of the Provincial Bids and Awards Committee (PBAC).
Then Provincial Assessor Florencio Diño II, accounting clerk Felicisimo Brondial, Inspection Officer Manuel Laurora and Enrico Velasco, president of the private firm that acted as supply contractor of the program were also included as respondents.
The case stemmed from a project of the provincial government entitled “Initiative for the Establishment of Distance Learning Centers as Delivery Mechanism (via satellite) for Capability Building” which was supposed to be implemented starting in April 2003 in agreement with the First Education and Training Ventures, Inc. (FETVI), Velascos’ firm.
An initial amount of P12 million, representing proceeds from a loan of the same amount granted to the provincial government by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), was released into the project as payment for the three sets of Cyberstream Satellite Gateway, office equipment and furniture and fixture supposed to be supplied by the FETVI.
Only one satellite link connectivity services was however delivered and the remaining items undelivered, stalling the purpose of the project which Lee explained was due to the absence of computer hardware and software to finally start the DLCP, the resolution said citing a report of the Commission on Audit (COA) dated May 2006.
Then in September 2005, the province negotiated for another loan, this time from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) worth P10 million which was granted and its proceed was again paid to the FETVI for the supply of 300 brand new computers that later turned out to be second hands and not reliably useable for the project. These equipments are now left rotting at the warehouse of the Sorsogon State College.
The collective acts of the respondents, while in the discharge of their official functions and that of private respondent Velasco cause undue injury to the government and the giving of any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence, the resolution said.
The graft case is second by the Ombudsman against Lee this year. He was also named principal respondent to the first ever case it has established three months ago in connection with the infamous P728-million fertilizer scam during the Arroyo administration.
The fund that came from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and intended to farmers’ fertilizer assistance was believed to be diverted into Arroyo’s campaign kitty in the 2005 elections and Lee received P5 million of it which COA reports said, he used to purchase liquid fertilizers in grossly overpriced amounts.
Lee is currently working on a P350-million loan either from the LBP or the PNB to finance various projects of the provincial government but Board Member Vladimir Frivaldo said, these lending institutions must suspend approval of any loan applied by the governor until he is able to clear himself from those graft charges.
“I consider charges like these part to be in consonance with the ‘Tuwid na Landas’ anti-corruption drive of Pres. Noynoy Aquino and these government-owned financial institutions should cooperate,” Frivaldo said. (PNA)