By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Third Division has convicted former Norala Mayor Romeo Salmeo Januto of North Cotabato and four others of graft due to the irregular purchase of fertilizers back in 2004.
Januto was found guilty of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, together with Municipal Accountant Grace Mediana, Municipal Treasurer and bids and awards committee (BAC) member Carlos Bengil, BAC Chairman Dominador Silao Escucha Jr., and BAC member Victor Yap Balayon.
They were sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six years and one month as minimum to 10 years as maximum with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
On June 23, 2004, the accused purchased 1,000 boxes of Florida Green Gold Organic Based Fertilizers from RCS Trading worth P1,800,000 through direct contracting even though there were other options that could be obtained at more advantageous terms to the government.
The accused were faulted for their “utter disregard” for the provisions of R.A. 9184, also known as the Procurement Law of 2003 and its implementing rules and regulations.
The law required public officials to subject every purchase to public bidding in order to get the best possible price for the government. During the hearing, the counsel of the accused admitted that there was indeed a lack of public bidding in this case.
The accused likewise admitted in their judicial affidavits that they did away with public bidding.
There are instances when direct contracting and negotiated procurement are allowed, so the anti-graft court delved into that.
In their defense, the accused said they resorted to direct contracting because they relied merely upon the recommendation of the Puti Communal Irrigators Association (PCIA), and there was an urgency to purchase the product because it was already planting season.
They added that they honestly believed direct contracting was allowed in the purchase of fertilizers, since R.A. 9184 only took effect on October 8, 2003. They never attended any seminars or training that would brief them regarding the law’s rules and regulations.
However, the anti-graft court was not convinced. “There is nothing…that gives weight to a recommendation of the PCIA and neither is urgency or the immediate need to purchase named as an exception,” the decsion stated.
The accused might have highlighted their reliance on good faith, stressing that they believed RCS Trading was an exclusive dealer and manufacturer. However, the anti-graft court said there was no evidence proving that they conducted a survey to determine if there were any sub-dealers selling at lower prices for which no suitable substitute can be obtained.
“Even with the recommendation from the BAC, accused Januto should have exercised proper care and caution before approving the procurement while accused Mediana was duty-bound to ensure that the procurement of the fertilizer was lawful. They, however, failed,” the decision read.
The 36-page decision was written by Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Ronald Moreno.