Acting Ombudsman orders filing of graft raps vs ex-Sulu governor

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 June) — Acting Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro has ordered the filing of criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan against former Sulu Governor Benjamin Loong, the head of a cooperative and two business entities for alleged irregularities involving certain livelihood and infrastructure projects in 2007.

In a 25-page resolution, Casimiro ordered the filing of information for alleged violation of Sections 3(a), (e) and (h) of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act) against Loong.

Kanoh Hajib, chair of the Bawisan Multi-Purpose Cooperative was also ordered charged for alleged violation of Section 3(e) and the BJ Construction and Material Supply Inc. and BJ Coco Oil Mill Inc. for alleged violation of Sec. 3(h) of the same law.

Records showed that in 2006, the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit IX and the Provincial Government of Sulu agreed to undertake the construction of an ice plant with cold storage and a cassava production/post harvest facility, with project cost amounting to P8.2M and P4.2M, respectively.

Under a Memorandum of Agreement, the ice plant and the cassava production facility were to be managed by the said cooperative. But the cooperative was found to be already nonexistent and the two facilities were built inside the BJ Coco Oil Mill and managed by the same business establishment.

Loong reportedly serves as president and member of the board of directors of the oil mill, which is registered in his name.

The resolution said:  “It is clearly made known that Benjamin Loong, through evident bad faith, caused undue injury to the Provincial Government of Sulu” when he conferred to BJ Coco Oil Mill, Inc. instead of the cooperative the management of the two facilities.

In an affidavit, Jesus Cabelin, Sulu Provincial Treasurer, alleged that Loong “had ordered and instructed him on different occasions to cause the disbursement of cash advance of funds intended for the ice plant with cold storage with 5 tons capacity and the cassava production facility and of funds for the construction in Maimbung, Sulu of several cold storage facilities.”

Investigation showed that there were no documents to prove that said cash advances in the amount of at least P41.3 million were actually deposited in the account of the Muncipality of Maimbung, Sulu.

The resolution added that the said disbursement of funds violated Section 174 (g) Volume 1 of the Government Accounting and Auditing Manual (GAAM) which reads: “No cash advance shall be granted on account of infrastructure or other undertakings on a project basis.”

It was also alleged that several road-concrete paving projects for the said province were funded by the Department of Public Works and Highways Regional Office IX (DPWH-RO IX) without the conduct of public bidding. Records showed that the projects were awarded to BJ Construction and Material Supply Inc., a corporation owned and controlled by Benjamin Loong”.

It was further revealed that Loong himself encashed  a Land Bank of the Philippines check in the amount of P4.9M that he issued as provincial governor and payable to the said construction company.

Casimiro also ordered the conduct of further fact-finding investigation to determine the liability of other personalities involved in the said projects as well as other laws that may have been violated by the respondents. (MindaNews)