9 town officials fined P999T for overpriced liquid fertilizer

Former mayor Alex Centena

By: Gerome Dalipe

THE Sandiganbayan has ordered nine former officials of Calinog, Iloilo to jointly pay almost P1-million as fine for their involvement in the irregular purchase of liquid fertilizer in 2004.

This, after the anti-graft court’s Seventh Division found former Calinog mayor Alex Centena and eight other municipal officials guilty of violating Art. 218 of the Revised Penal Code (Failure of Accountable Officer to Render Accounts).

The Sandiganbayan handed down its decision after the respondents entered a guilty plea to lesser offense of failure of accountable officer to render accounts.

Apart from Centena, the other respondents are former municipal treasurer Valentine Sobretodo, former municipal accountant Meriam Celeste, former municipal Agriculturist Crispino Castro, and former municipal supply officer Jose Rex Casipe.

The four remaining respondents are bids and awards committee (BAC) members and former municipal administrator Melanie Hilario, former municipal planning and development officer Rhoda Lyn Panizales, former municipal engineer Jose Edeso Enriquez, and former municipal council secretary Ana Lerio Caspillo.

The respondents were originally charged with violation of Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas indicted the town officials of violating the government procurement law relative to the distribution of 666 bottles of Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizer, which allegedly did not undergo the mandatory public bidding.

The liquid fertilizers, which cost P1,500 each, totaled to P999,000. The purchase of such fertilizers was part of the Department of Agriculture’s farm inputs and farm implements program.

During the preliminary conference, the respondents proposed to enter a plea bargaining agreement to the lesser offense of failure of accountable officer to render accounts.

For his part, Centena manifested the respondents would have settled the civil liability aspect of the charge with a full payment of P999,000.

But the proposal had been delayed since the municipal treasurer was in dilemma on how to properly accept and issue receipt of the payment.

Considering that the respondents stated in the affirmative that they understood the nature of the plea of guilty, they are deemed to have admitted all the charges contained in the charge sheet.

Apart from the fine to jointly pay P999,000, the Sandiganbayan also ordered each respondent to pay P5,000 as fine.

The respondents are directed to pay the amount within 10 days from receipt of the decision.