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Ombudsman raps former DOH Secretary for P392M hospital project bid anomaly

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has found probable cause to charge former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona and two other officials for the anomalous procurement of its hospital modernization program in 2012. Ona together with Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and Assistant Secretary Nicolas Lutero III are set to face trial before the Sandiganbayan for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019).

Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona
In addition to the criminal charges, the Ombudsman also found Ona, et.al. guilty of Grave Misconduct. They were ordered dismissed from the service and meted the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office with forfeiture of retirement benefits. In case of separation from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to respondents’ one year salary.

Investigation found that in September 2012, the DOH implemented its modernization program for the Region 1 Medical Center (R1MC) with a project cost of P392.2million. Five bidders joined the public bidding for the project with two bidders, EM Cuerpo Inc. and Specified Contractors & Development Inc. (SCDI), declared as post-disqualified for failure to comply with the agency’s detailed estimate requirements. Aggrieved, SCDI, the second lowest bidder, filed a motion for reconsideration that was eventually denied by the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC). On 23 August 2013, a Notice of Award was issued to the 3rd lowest bidder, Northern Builders Inc. (NBI). No protest as provided under the Government Procurement Reform Act (Republic Act No. 9184) was filed by SCDI.

In August 2013, SCDI filed a letter-complaint with the Office of the President alleging anomalies in the procurement project. Ona then requested Lutero to conduct a fact-finding investigation on the matter.

On 13 September 2013, Ona instructed the chief of R1MC, Dr. Joseph Rolando Mejia, to provide an update on the procurement project. Three days later, on 16 September 2013, Herbosa sent a letter to Mejia “enjoining him to nullify or set aside the issuance of the Notice of Award to [NBI] and to continue with the post-qualification of SCDI.” On 30 September 2013, Ona issued a Cease and Desist Order to Mejia pending investigation of the SCDI complaint. In December 2013, the DOH conducted a re-bid for the project.

In its Resolution, the Ombudsman stated that when SCDI did not file any protest or appeal, “the SBAC’s resolution had become final and respondents could no longer intervene and issue a Cease and Desist Order.”

According to Ombudsman Morales, “while Ona had the power to investigate any infractions or violations committed by its 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 R.A. No. 9184.”

“This Office is convinced that Ona, Lutero and Herbosa conspired with one another in giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to SCDI,” added Ombudsman Morales.

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