By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has cleared former officials of the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) of two graft charges in relation to the allegedly anomalous purchase of P20 million worth of agriculture equipment.
Former SPDA administrator Sultan Ali Mindalano, deputy administrator Esa Bayani, legal officer III Tomas Ballesteros, administrative department officer in charge (OIC) Sultan Dic Kah Manalundung, operations and planning division Chief Rodolfo De Asis Sudario, general services division chief James Cautivar, and, Kidapawan Mercantile Inc. & Major Tractors & Equipment contractor Loreto Nicolas were initially accused of violating Section 3(e) and (g) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Supply officer III Reynaldo Tech and accounting division OIC Charlene Damuy were only accused of violating Section 3(g) of the said law.
In October 2000, the accused reportedly conspired with one another and gave unwarranted benefits to Nicolas when they rigged the bidding for the purchase of 10 tractors amounting to P26,775,000, 10 rice millers amounting to P2,934,700, 10 rice threshers amounting to P1,517,250, 10 power tillers amounting to P1,758,750, and 10 turtle power tillers costing P819,000.
On the other hand, the contract for the procurement of 10 corn shellers costing P1,520,400 was awarded to Rubbar Marketing Center.
The prosecution claimed that the accused officials rigged the bidding in favor of Nicolas and a John Doe, adding that there was no delivery despite the payment made by the SPDA.
However, the anti-graft court found their evidence lacking. For one thing, the court said the prosecution failed to prove how the accused rigged the bidding.
The only thing the prosecution presented was the testimony of state auditor IV Lilia Maglana, who presumed that there was only a single publication of the invitation to bid. Her testimony was even refuted by the defense when they shared the invitation to bid published in the Metropolitan Gazette and Gold Star Daily.
The prosecution’s evidence also does not support its claim that there was no delivery of the purchased equipment. The deficiencies in the sales invoice and delivery receipts, according to the court, only prove that there were deficiencies in SPDA’s documentation and nothing more.
“Clearly, the deficiencies in SPDA’s documentation and the notice of suspension do not conclusively prove the non-delivery of the subject tractors, especially in the absence of any evidence,” the court’s decision read.