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MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan has found seven officials of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) guilty of graft for the anomalous procurement of P47.14 million worth of wooden railway ties.
In the anti-graft court’s 69-page decision, each of the following PNR officials were convicted on two counts of graft: division manager Abdul Aziz Pangandaman, department managers Ruben Besmonte and Estelito Nierva, lawyer Neofito Perilla, assistant department manager Divina Gracia Dantes, and engineers Mario Arias and Cesar Bocanog.
Pangandaman, Nierva, Besmonte, Perilla, and Dantes were members of the PNR’s bids and awards committee (BAC), while Bocanog and Arias were with its technical working group.
The officials were accused of giving unwarranted preference, or undue advantage, to supplier Nikka Trading, which they awarded two contracts for the delivery of wood bridges, wood joint ties, and wood switch ties, that did not comply with variety and safety specifications.
One contract was worth P37.75 million, with the other was for P9.39 million. The Office of the Ombudsman filed charges in 2017.
All procurement documents – including the invitation to bid, bid data sheet, post-qualification report, notice of award, contract, and notice to proceed – specified that Yakal wood was the material to be purchased because of its durability.
In November 2011, supplemental bid bulletins modified the order to say Yakal, “or other species or kid of wood, as long as it confirms to the mechanical and related properties of Philippine woods.”
However, the Sandiganbayan held that this did not alter the intent of the procurement, which specified Yakal.
The PNR officials sourced Larch wood for the railway ties. During trial, prosecution witness Elvina Bondad of the Department of Science and Technology’s Forest Products Research and Development Institute said that the samples of Larch wood from Nikka Trading had a strength rating of “low to moderately low.”
The court found the PNR officials guilty of gross inexcusable negligence for sourcing Larch wood, placing railway passengers at risk.
“They blindly moved forward, carrying with them the risk of installing subpar quality and endangering the safety of the riding public,” the Sandiganbayan said in its decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta.
The PNR officials were sentenced to 6 to 10 years imprisonment per graft charge, or a total of 12 to 20 years. They were also perpetually disqualified from holding government posts.
PNR general manager Junio Ragragio and division manager Rosendo Calleja were acquitted for lack of evidence of their involvement in the procurement process.
In 2019, the Commission on Audit flagged PNR’s “illegal” use of P50.9 million in South railway funds for the payment of PNR’s 2017 security services.
Former PNR general manager Junn Magno also faced a corruption complaint initiated by PNR employees. – Rappler.com