The Office of the Ombudsman has suspended Tabuk City mayor Darwin Estranero for six months after finding him guilty for misconduct in relation to the purchase of personal protective equipment and medical supplies during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020.
However, the mayor’s seven co-accused city executives were cleared of the same charges.
Graft investigation and prosecution officer II Cezar Tirol, II of the office’s Special Panel in his 40 page decision in November 28 last year found “Darwin C. Estranero guilty of Simple Misconduct for which he is meted the penalty of SUSPENSION FROM THE SERVICE FOR SIX (6) MONTHS.”
The decision was signed last July 11 by Ombudsman Samuel Martires.
The suspension stemmed from the complaint for grave misconduct filed by Tabuk vice mayor Bernard Glenn Dao-as, a Tabuk taxpayer and the National Bureau of Investigation – Cagayan for the purchase of PPEs, face masks and medical supplies just after the entire Luzon was declared under lockdown in March 2020.
The complaint included all members of the Bids and Awards Committee chaired by city administrator Arnold Tenedero, city health officer Henrietta Linden Bagayao, loal officer Arthur Kuba-ao, Sr.,engineer Juanito Amanan, Jr., city general services officer Elmer Agliam and budget officer Edgar Sannadan and city accountant Grace Pocais.
Among the allegations lodged include the failure to follow the bids and awards procedures and overpriced purchased materials to battle the pandemic.
NBI-CVO operatives, meanwhile, said that it has “uncovered several irregularities in the procurement of medical and laboratory equipment and other supplies during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. ”
The same said that “they noticed that the undated Action Plan of the City Health Officer was prepared prior to the State of Calamity declaration on 16 March 2020 and that the estimated prices of the medical supplies stated in the Action Plan were bloated.”
Moreover, the Commission on Audit (COA) on August 4, 2020 questioned the grant of cash advance to Estranero which was sourced from the city’s Quick Response Fund.
The COA in flagging the mayor, cited Proclamation No. 929 which declared a State of Calamity throughout the Philippines due to COVID19, said “Estrañero had no reason to draw a cash advance since the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund can already be utilized.”
In his defense, Estranero argued that the complaints were politically motivated.
Moreover, Estranero and the BAC members argued that the purchases were made timely since these were “indispensable in order to provide protection to the health workers during the COVID surge.”
They added also that the “three RFQs from different suppliers were not required in this procurement;” that one of the suppliers, “Jo-Lea Enterprises from Cagayan is legally, technically and financially qualified supplier;” and, insisted that the PPEs were not overpriced.
Estranero added that “he was motivated by good faith and desire to provide a quick response to crisis,…“ and justified “the resort to cash advance when it was difficult, impractical or impossible to make payments by check. “
In the mayor’s pleading, Tirol noted: “At the time when health and safety of the Tabuk City were of importance and getting the needed supplies and resources in response to the pandemic was his priority. His city does not have ready access to the medical materials prescribed by the national government. His actions were grounded on his duty and commitment to serve the best interest of Tabuk City.“
The special panel also noted that “Estranero explains that the undated PO (purchase order) which he signed was a simple oversight and such was not conclusive evidence of any irregularity or wrong-doing on his part. He had no intention to violate the law or disregard the rules.”
In conclusion, Tirol, however, found Estranero guilty of misconduct only.
Tirol also reminded the mayor that “entering into contract on behalf of the city government is not ministerial in nature. “
He further admonished the mayor “to have exercised reasonable degree of caution and sound judgment before affixing his signature on the said contract, especially in light of the (Department of Health) DOH issuances on prize freeze of medical supplies and equipment at that time. “
Tirol added: “It should be stressed that the amount involved is not insignificant and the price disparity is patently excessive, thus, it should not have been too much to make prior consultations with other concerned officials if only to ensure that the transaction would be devoid of any irregularity.“
Tirol also thumbed down the complaint for abuse for authority because of the “emergency situation brought about (by) the national calamity negates the wanton, capriciously excessive and extravagant manner the respondent Mayor could be held liable for. “
In quashing the cases against the BAC members, Tirol “upheld the presumption of regularity of the BAC in accepting a bid offer and declared that it cannot contradict the BAC’s finding on record.” Pigeon Lobien