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Ex-Ecija mayor, 11 others charged with plunder, graft for ‘rigged’ P102-M projects

  • Written by Steve A. Gosuico
  • Published in Provincial
  • Read: 227

SAN Antonio, Nueva Ecija -- This town’s former mayor, including 11 others, have been charged before the Office of the Ombudsman with plunder and graft over P102 million worth of local projects during the previous administration whose bidding was allegedly found to have been rigged and overpriced.

Charged with plunder, three counts of malversation of public funds  and seven counts of violations of Republic Act 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, in a complaint filed before the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon were former Mayor Antonino Lustre, spouses Julito and Maritta Semacio, Engineers Eloy Castillo, Michael Galang, Renato Bustamante, Roberto Odulio, Julito Galang Jr., Daisy Pili, Mercy Reyes and Constancia Salonga and Papisss Inc., represented by Engineer Pedro Perez.
    
The 14-page consolidated complaints were filed by Lustre’s rival, Mayor Arvin C. Salonga.
    
Salonga defeated Lustre in the May elections by some 200 votes.
    
In his complaint affidavit, Salonga said that when he assumed office on June 30, his administration uncovered numerous “highly anomalous and unlawful transactions.”
    
He cited these anomalies as the construction of a P52.1-million two-storey commercial building, a P45-million slaughterhouse and integrated terminal complex and the purchase of an agricultural lot for P5 million.
    
Aside from Lustre, named respondents in the plunder case were Perez and Bids and Awards Committee chairman Bustamante and Galang (Julito), Pili, Reyes and Salonga (Constancia), BAC members.
    
For malversation, charged were Lustre, the Semacio couple, Eclar, Bustamante, Galang (Michael), Odulio, Galang (Julito), Pili, Reyes and Salonga.
    
In the commercial building project, Lustre was accused of entering into a contract with Papiss Inc., represented by Perez, on Dec. 29, 2015 without any authority from the Sangguniang Bayan (SB).
 
The project, the complaint stated, was not specified in the annual budget and the bidding was rigged to favor Papiss Inc.
   
The complaint added that the invitation to bid was not posted in Philgeps or the municipal website but the BAC advertised the invitation to bid in CCNE Online News, a local newspaper, contrary to the required publication in a newspaper of national circulation in violation of the law.
    
On the slaughterhouse and terminal complex project, the complaint said that on June 6, 2014, Lustre entered into a contract with MB Eclar Trading and Construction represented by Michael Galang for its construction without any authority from the SB and likewise rigging the bidding in favor of Eclar.
    
The complaint said the BAC members “closed their eyes to the glaring circumvention of the procurement law” and liberally awarded the contract to Galang although he only borrowed Eclar’s license as contractor.
    
The project was also found to have been overpriced by P1.3 million.
    
Worse, the complaint stated, Lustre and Bustamante bargained away the right of the municipal government to collect liquidated damages from Eclar and Galang for failing to satisfactorily complete the project which was delayed by 250 days.
 
In the case of the lot, the complaint stated that Lustre signed to purchase a lot in Bgy. Sta. Cruz for the slaughterhouse, terminal and commercial center for P5 million without SB authority, and although the said lot is under litigation, which price is way above its fair market value and without consulting first the provincial appraisal committee (PAC).
 
The purchase was also done without a project study and without clearance from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) prior to the execution of the contract of sale, read the complaint.
    
The complaint cited that under the law, lands acquired under the Agrarian Reform Law shall not be sold, transferred or conveyed except through hereditary succession for a period of 10 years and that irrigated or irrigable lands are not subject to conversion.