MANILA, Philippines – Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona and two other ex-DOH officials are facing graft charges before the Sandiganbayan in connection with a P392-million hospital modernization project.
They are also perpetually disqualified from holding public office, with forfeiture of retirement benefits.
In a statement on Monday, July 11, the Office of the Ombudsman said it found probable cause to indict Ona, former Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, and former Health Assistant Secretary Nicolas Lutero III for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Section 3(e) covers the act of “causing any undue injury to any party, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference.”
In this case, Ona, Lutero, and Herbosa allegedly “conspired with one another” to unduly favor Specified Contractors & Development Incorporated (SCDI) for the modernization of the Region 1 Medical Center (R1MC) back in 2012.
Initially, 5 bidders had joined the bidding for the R1MC project, with SCDI and another bidder – EM Cuerpo Incorporated – “declared as post-disqualified” for failure to comply with requirements.
SCDI filed a motion for reconsideration, but it was rejected by the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC).
In August 2013, the SBAC then issued a Notice of Award to Northern Builders Incorporated (NBI). SCDI did not file a protest, but instead wrote to the Office of the President, claiming there were anomalies in the procurement. Ona then told Lutero to conduct a fact-finding investigation.
In September 2013, Herbosa instructed R1MC chief Dr Rolando Mejia to “nullify or set aside the issuance of the Notice of Award to [NBI] and to continue with the post-qualification of SCDI.” By the end of that month, Ona also issued a cease and desist order to Mejia, pending investigation of SCDI’s claims.
Rebidding for the R1MC project was eventually conducted in December 2013.
The Ombudsman said Ona, Lutero, and Herbosa should not have intervened because the SBAC’s Notice of Award already became final without a protest from SCDI.
“While Ona had the power to investigate any infractions or violations committed by [DOH] employees including the members of the SBAC, this does not mean that he could simply invalidate and declare null and void the proceedings and decisions made by the SBAC without observing the provisions of RA No. 9184,” the statement quoted Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales as saying.
Republic Act (RA) No. 9184 is the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Aquino had asked Ona to take time off to prepare his answers to questions on the government’s vaccination campaign, and the balance between preventive and curative aspects of public health.
Ona submitted his response to Aquino but eventually quit, and was replaced by Janette Garin, who had criticized Ona’s decision to allow clinical trials of a controversial drug. – Rappler.com