Office of the Ombudsman

Ombudsman orders filing of graft charges vs former BFAR officials over anomalous deal

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Ombudsman orders filing of graft charges vs former BFAR officials over anomalous deal

Demosthenes Escoto present during the launch of a program for fishing communities facing the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday, April 16, in Subic, Zambales.


The Ombudsman says the former BFAR officials 'apparently schemed' to award a contract that is 'disadvantageous to the government'

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the filing of graft charges against two former Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) officials over a P2.1-billion procurement deal related to vessel monitoring systems. 

BFAR national director Demosthenes Escoto and former director and Agriculture Undersecretary for Fisheries Eduardo Gongona are facing four counts of violating sections of Republic Act 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Simon Tucker of SRT Marine Systems Solutions, Ltd, is also named in the resolution.

The Office of the Ombudsman also approved a ruling in a separate administrative case that ordered Escoto’s dismissal from service over the same deal.

An April 11 resolution for indicted approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires stated that Escoto and Gongona “while in the exercise of their official functions as chairman of the [Bids and Awards Committee], and as head of the procuring entity respectively, and in conspiracy with Tucker, clearly gave unwarranted benefit or advantage to SRT-France and SRT-UK.” 

The case stems from a complaint filed by lawyer James Mier Victoriano in March 2022, alleging an anomaly in the procurement process for P2.1 billion Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) transceivers. 

The VMS transceivers were purchased under the DA-BFAR’s Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System Project Phase I, which sought to “enhance the Philippines’ capability to safeguard and monitor the country’s marine resources and to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities.” The project is funded by a €28.52-million (P1.75 billion) loan from France. 

The condition, however, is that the equipment supplier must be a French company. BFAR’s BAC initially awarded the contract to SRT-France but later recalled it after discovering that it had no facility in France. The contract was eventually awarded to SRT-UK after the DA-BFAR recommended the closure of the French loan and instead sourced the funding locally. It also increased the budget to P2.099 billion.  

The Ombudsman said that these show that Escoto, Gongona, and Tucker “had apparently schemed to ultimately award a contract to SRT-UK that is disadvantageous to the government.”

“The series of events that came prior to the award are circumstantial evidence proving that an irregularity had been committed and they are probably guilty thereof,” the Ombudsman said.

Meanwhile, Ombudsman investigators cleared respondents DA Assistant Secretary Hansel Didulo and SRT Marine executive Richard Hurd, stating that no evidence showed they actively participated in the anomalous deal. –

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