Anti-corruption watchdog sues Kidapawan mayor, city administrator

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/05 January) — Officers of a local anti-corruption watchdog filed on Tuesday graft charges against two highest officials of the city for their alleged failure to implement on time the construction of the wastewater treatment facility for the city’s abattoir and public market.

Facing charges before the Davao City-based Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao are Kidapawan City Mayor Rodolfo Gantuangco and City Administrator Rodolfo Cabiles Jr., who also chairs the Bids and Awards Committee.

The four-page affidavit-complaint subscribed before acting city prosecutor Melvin Lamata Sr. was signed by Abner Francisco and Vilma Gonzales, chair and secretary-general, respectively, of the Watchful Advocates for Transparent, Clean, and Honest Governance in Kidapawan (Watch Kidapawan).

The graft charges stemmed from the non-implementation of the wastewater treatment facility, a project scheduled to start in 2008 after the loan amounting to P5.954 million was released by the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

Latest bank records obtained by the group showed that the city government has already paid the DBP at least 70 percent of its loan, including interests, yet construction of the facility at its site in Barangay Magsaysay has not actually started, Francisco said.

“The continued neglect and refusal of Gantuangco and Cabiles to implement and complete in time the project, without sufficient justification, is discriminating, disadvantageous, detrimental, and prejudicial to the taxpayers and the constituents, in general,” said the complaint.

Francisco said Gantuangco should also be held criminally liable for entering into an agreement with Basic Needs Services-Philippines Inc. (BNS-Phils) which he described as disadvantageous to the public.

BNS-Philippines Inc., a registered non-profit organization based in Quezon City, became the city government’s preferred consultant to the project, after many failed public biddings. This happened when the City Engineering Office admitted to the BAC that it lacked expertise to build the facility.

The city government then cited Republic Act 9184 or the Procurement Act in justifying a negotiated purchase and choosing BNS Phils as project consultant.

On July 25, 2008, the city signed a memorandum of agreement for technical assistance with BNS Phils.

The agreement provides that BNS Phils. shall prepare the detailed engineering design and the detailed cost plan of the decentralized wastewater treatment systems for the city.

The city government also agreed to assign BNS Phils as supervisor during the construction of the facility.

“…Gantuangco, upon entering into such agreement with BNS-Phils., failed to exercise diligence and correct judgment… and that the failed biddings and the continued refusal of BNS-Phils., to comply with the necessary requirements are actual manifestations of the respondents’ failure to meticulously study the capability, sincerity, and capacity of the preferred consultant, which in turn became damaging and injurious to the interests of the city’s taxpayers,” the complaint said.

Watch Kidapawan said that despite the remedies resorted to by the city government BNS Phils still failed to actually start the construction of such facility.

Francisco lamented that many councilors just made the issue an opportunity for “grandstanding” when it was raised at the city council in August last year

“We were so frustrated by the way the Sanggunian handled the issue. Four months after the issue was raised in their level, none was done so far to compel the executive department to realize the project,” he said.

The city has already incurred huge amounts for activities related to the project, including the regular payments of the loan to the bank, yet “until today, we see no sign of the facility or any structure that was erected at the project site.”

For his part, Gantuangco said he and Cabiles are willing to shed light on the issue if given the chance to explain their side.

“We’ve done nothing wrong here. The process was just right. It was the EcoGov 2 that requested for the deferment of the project since they wanted to make changes in the design. Some P400,000 is needed to cover the expenses if the changes in the project design push through,” he said.

“We will face these charges. I see this as a welcome development so that the public may know that I was not negligent on my duty.   Also, it was not the city government that refused to implement the project. It was the BNS Phils that has failed in so many instances to submit the requirements needed to realize this plan.  I have done nothing wrong. The money is intact. It has not been touched or used for other purposes,” he stressed.

BNS Phils could not be reached for comment.

The plan to construct the facility was hatched in 2005 to comply with Republic Act 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act, which states that “local government units shall share the responsibility in the management and improvement of water quality within their territorial jurisdictions.”

The city government signed an agreement with the Philippine Environment Governance Project Phase 2 (EcoGov 2) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12 on September 25, 2005.

Based on the rapid assessments conducted by EcoGov 2, both the city public market and abattoir were found to have discharged untreated wastewater to Nuangan River, one of the longest rivers in North Cotabato, and that the city government has no maintenance of its poorly designed wastewater treatment lagoons.

Three years later, the city government was granted an environmental compliance certificate after the Environmental Management Bureau in Region 12 conducted a thorough review and evaluation of the initial environmental examination report it submitted.

Francisco, also program director of Charm Radio here, said the filing of graft charges against the two city officials “was just the start of our job as an anti-corruption watchdog.”

“We’re serious in our campaign to rid our government of graft and corruption and that transparent, clean, and honest governance should prevail over vested interests of our politicians,” he said.

“We will make these officials accountable for our money,” he added.

Watch Kidapawan, which comprises journalists and members of civil society groups, was organized in July 2010 after a training given by the Institute for Peace and War Reporting under the Philippine Transparency Reporting Project, in partnership with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)