By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
Four officials of the Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) have pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of breach of conduct instead of graft before the Sandiganbayan Second Division in relation to anomalous transactions made in several water projects in 2004.
COWD Chairman Francisco Mendez, Secretary Raymundo Java, Assistant Secretary Sandy Bass Sr., and Treasurer Sarah Borja were initially charged with violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
When the case was called on Jan. 27, the accused moved that they be allowed to withdraw their earlier plea of “not guilty” and be re-arraigned. Since the prosecution did not object, the anti-graft court granted their motion.
They entered a “guilty” plea to the lesser offense of violating of Section 7(a) of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees. Borja made the same plea on Jan. 24.
They were all sentenced by the court to pay a fine of P5,000, and the hold departure order issued against them was ordered lifted.
The two decisions were penned by Second Division Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. with the concurrence of Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Bayani Jacinto.
The four officials are facing the charges together with Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez in his capacity as the president of Rio Verde Water Consortium Inc. (RVW Consortium).
On December 2004, the accused officials were accused of giving undue advantage to Alvarez when they declared the company a qualified bidder for the Bulk Water Supply Project (BWSP).
The award was made solely on the recommendation of the BWSP and not the bids and awards committee (BAC) of the COWD. They even signed the BWSP contract even though it is not in accord with the model contract.
At the same time, they did not pay heed to the legal advice of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel to file an action for reformation of the contract in court.