By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of Philippine Normal University (PNU) president Ester Balating Ogena and three others after they were found guilty of grave misconduct due to their involvement in the reportedly anomalous advertising contract worth $25,000 back in 2011.
Ogena was ordered dismissed together with vice president for finance and administration Rebecca Corpuz Nueva España, Financial Management Service director Joseph Gepanaga Luceno and Budget Office head Florence Ablang Allejos.
Their case stemmed from the Foreign Policy Magazine, which former Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan asked the PNU to participate in since it could help raise the overall profile of Southeast Asia as an education destination.
The PNU, through Ogena, then entered into an advertising contract with in-house advertising agency UNL worth $25,000. Ogena ordered España to facilitate the payment to UNL on June 14, 2011.
When the routing slip reached former director of Financial Management Service Harry Huliganga, he sent a note saying that the transaction “does not fall under the modes of procurement provided under Republic Act 9184.”
At the same time, the specific budget for advertisement is not enough to cover the amount requested, and it needs approval from the PNU Board of Regents (BOR).
Despite this fact, España directed Huliganga to facilitate the process of payment to UNL on June 17. She attached Ogena’s justification, which stated that it was made upon the request of Licuanan for universities to showcase their programs.
Eventually, the PNU processed the first payment of P550,160.86 on June 22 to UNL, which is the exchange rate at the time for $12,500. España certified that all he supporting documents were valid while Allejos certified that there was available budget for the purpose indicated. On July 5, another justification was made for the second payment.
But on October 18, 2013, the Commission on Audit (COA) suspended the total amount paid for the advertorial, which was P1,095,916.86. This was due to “non-adherence with various laws,” the Ombudsman decision read.
“There is substantial evidence to hold respondents guilty of grave misconduct,” the decision further read. “Respondents proceeded with the subject transactions despite several issued raised by Huliganga concerning the project, such as lack of competitive public bidding, lack of budget and the need for the BOR approval in case budget will be realigned.”
At the same time, the first payment of 50 percent violated Section 4 of Annex “D” of R.A. 9184, which provides that advance payment shall be made only after prior approval of the president and shall not exceed 15 percent of the contract amount.
“Respondents repeatedly failed to follow the requirements of R.A. 9184 as well as its implementing rules and regulations, GPPB Regulations and pertinent COA Rules and Regulations, thereby exhibiting flagrant disregard of established rules, amounting to grave misconduct,” the decision read.
Aside from the dismissal, the respondents have been slapped with the accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of leave credits and retirement benefits, and disqualification for reemployment in the government service.
In the event that dismissal can no longer be served, their penalty shall be converted into a fine in the amount of their salary for one year, and it may be deductible from their retirement benefits or accrued leave credits.
The decision ordering their dismissal was signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on October 24, 2017, but it only reached the office of former Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan on December 14.
Licuanan claimed that she has 30 days to implement the Ombudsman decision, so it was not served immediately. During that time, Ogena offered to step down from office on January 3, 2018.
The BOR then elected Dr. Ma. Antoinette Montealegre to step in as officer-in-charge effective January 3, 2018.