MANILA – The Sandiganbayan cleared a former Surigao del Sur mayor and 12 others indicted five years ago in connection with alleged anomalies in the purchase of earth-moving equipment.

The anti-graft court acquitted former Bislig City mayor Librado Navarro and 12 others, who were linked to an alleged anomalous purchase of a hydraulic excavator worth PHP14.75 million in 2012.

In 2017, the Ombudsman charged them with violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in 2017, “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

However, the 56-page decision dated February 21, said with respect to the mayor’s approval of awarding of the contract, “the Court finds that manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence was not proven”

“There is nothing in the bid documents supporting the subject transaction which showed a badge of irregularity which would have prompted him to disapprove the BAC’s (Bids and Awards Committee) recommendation,” the court ruled.

The court said specifications were complied with and conspiracy among the supplier and the 13 accused was not proven.

The Ombudsman ruling was set aside as the BAC recommended the awarding of the bid to the firm with the lowest offer, the amount was within the approved budget, and the local government unit used the equipment for infrastructure projects.

Also acquitted were BAC chair Charlito Lerog (City Administrator), and BAC members City Treasurer Roberto Viduya, City Planning Development Coordinator Aprodecio Alba Jr., General Services Officer Felipe Sabaldan Jr., City Budget Officer-in-Charge Belma Lomantas, and City Legal Officer Daisy Ronquillo; Technical Working Group members City Accountant Raquel Bautista, Gilbert Abugan, Laila Manlucob, and Estefa Mata; and Cesar Ner of private firm RDAK Transport Equipment Inc.

The charge against City Engineer Lorna Salgado was dismissed in view of her death in 2019.

The case stemmed from the purchase by the city government of a Komatsu crawler-type hydraulic excavator from RDAK on July 18, 2012 worth PHP14.75 million.

The Commission on Audit (COA) evaluation report showed that the project was awarded to RDAK despite its non-compliance with the technical specifications concerning the engine power, bucket capacity, and operating weight.

The COA then issued a Notice of Disallowance on Oct. 23, 2012. (PNA)