MANILA -- The Office of the Ombudsman has filed graft and ethical charges against water district officials in Cagayan de Oro City over questionable water supply contracts.

Charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan were Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) board chairman Raymundo Java, vice chairman Sandy Bass Sr., members Sarah Borja and Francisco Mendez, treasurer Bibiana Sarmiento, secretary Joel Baldelovar, former Local Water Utilities Administrator Lorenzo Jamora, and LWUA general manager Gaspar Gonzales Jr.

Java, Bass, Sarmiento, and Baldelovar were also charged with violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for accepting two water tankers and a brand new Toyota Revo vehicle in connection with the illegal negotiated contract.

Private citizens Edward Chona, President and General Manager of Geo-Transport and Construction Inc. (GTCI), and Jose Alvarez of Rio Verde Water Consortium, Inc. (RVWCI) were also charged for allegedly conspiring with the COWD executives.

The Ombudsman has discovered that on Dec. 23, 2005, a Supplemental Agreement for the Cagayan De Oro City Water Supply System Improvement Project (Main Service Area) was entered into between COWD and GTCI with a contract price of about PHP193.19 million.

Records showed the respondents did not conduct any public bidding and instead awarded the project through a negotiated contract.

The probe also found out that on Dec. 23, 2004, the COWD entered into a Bulk Water Supply Agreement with RVWCI for the supply of treated bulk water.

Procurement documents also showed that even before the submission and opening of the bids on Nov. 18, 2004, the COWD board had already declared RVWCI as qualified to participate in the bidding despite the consortium’s failure to submit its eligibility documents, such as its income tax returns and audited financial statements.

The anti-graft body also found out that the contract was prepared solely by RVWCI with no opportunity for the signatories to read and review the provisions.

For this reason, it took the COWD board two years and two months to notice the difference between the model contract and the signed contracts specifically on items concerning the billing rates.

Consequently, the consortium billed COWD PHP11.52 per cubic meter instead of PHP10.45 per cubic meter as previously agreed upon by the parties.

“In so doing, not only did respondent board members contravene the procurement law and blatantly demonstrate impropriety and partiality, they also belie their averment that they did not receive the BAC (bids and awards committee) resolution disqualifying the RVW consortium,” the Ombudsman said in its resolution.

The Ombudsman added that “respondents acted with evident bad faith, manifest partiality, and gross inexcusable negligence, when they signed the contract without first reading it, to the prejudice of the COWD.” (PNA)