Ombudsman verdict foul, Catanduanes officials

Catanduanes Provincial Capitol Building. Photo by Rodolfo Franciscco
Catanduanes Provincial Capitol Building. Photo by Rodolfo Franciscco

VIRAC, Catanduanes – Claiming they only acted accordingly and personally gained nothing from the fertilizer fund, some of the seven Catanduanes provincial officials ordered penalized with suspension and dismissal from service by the Office of the Ombudsman, have appealed for fair treatment and understanding.

“We have not pocketed any money from this fertilizer funds. We are only victims of dirty politics and we know very well the politician behind this and his motives,” three of the officials — Provincial General Services Officer Rogelio Pitajen, Provincial Agriculturist Herbert Evangelista and Assistant Provincial Assessor Abelardo Abundo Jr. — said in a joint public statement.

In the statement published over the week by the Naga City-based Bicol Mail, a regional weekly, the three said they were pinned down by the Ombudsman while they were not given chance to be heard and investigated “so we deserve fair treatment and understanding.”

Evangelista, who has been in government service for 30 years, said, “I have been an outstanding department head of this province recognized for excellence in government service, where a number of local and national awards and citations were etched in my name, but despite all these, the Ombudsman did not bother to try to get my side, did not bother to really investigate the case filed against me.”

Evangelista who was ordered by the Ombudsman dismissed from government service said: “My family is not ready for this. I do not even know where to start explaining things to my friends. But then again I accept the Ombudsman’s order in complete obedience,” he said in the statement.

For his part, Pitajen said: “I have a clear mind, even clearer conscience to prove my innocence.” He said we would fight all the way for his honor, and make sure his 34 years in service will not go up in smoke as he expressed confidence “the Court of Appeals would not be as deaf and blind as the Ombudsman and would give them their rightful day in court”.

Pitajen was also ordered dismissed from service but unlike Evangelista who accepted the verdict “in complete obedience”, he said he is elevating the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).

Two other senior provincial officials, Rodolfo Maliñana of the Provincial Engineering Office (PEO) who was then the chairman of the Bids and Award Committee (BAC) and his vice-chairman Ireneo Del Rosario of the Provincial Budget Office were also ordered dismissed from the service. They were unavailable for comment as of Tuesday.

Abundo on the other hand said, “the Ombudsman field investigator who filed the case against us was supposed to have investigated in the field. But not a soul from Catanduanes had seen this man, so obviously he did not do his job, because if he did he would have discovered the truth, far different from the ‘truth’ he had erroneously prepared and submitted to pin us down.”

He, along with two other accused, provincial Treasurer Juliet Tasarra and Provincial Engineering Officer Hilda Arcilla have been ordered suspended for three months without pay in addition to the six-month preventive suspension orders earlier served on them.

Leandro Verceles Jr. who was Catanduanes governor during the time when the alleged irregularities were consummated was also charged for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and placed under watch list by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Out on bail, the former governor expressed confidence that he and his former provincial officials will get through with the fertilizer mess as he said last week that he will file a petition for certiorari with the CA to seek a reversal of the Ombudsman ruling.

In the charges filed by Ombudsman Field Investigation Officer Dennis Buenaventura, the officials were accused of having misused and misappropriated the P5-million fund released for the province by the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the implementation of farm input programs and violated procurement laws and processes for the purchase of Bio-Nature Fertilizers.

The amount was said to be part of the P728-million fertilizer fund of the DA allegedly diverted by then president now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to her campaign kitty in the 2005 presidential elections. Mrs. Arroyo has denied the accusation.

Information filed revealed that there was absence of public bidding and instead, direct contracting or single source procurement was resorted to, that the supplier of the fertilizers had no business permit, that there was overpricing and that the fertilizers actually purchased carried specifications different from those indicated in the Purchase Order. (PNA)


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