15 April 2014

Criminal raps ordered vs HCPTI’s Romeros

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on Monday ordered the filing of criminal charges against Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI) Chairman Reghis Romero II and Chief Executive Officer Michael Romero.

In a resolution approved on April 7, Morales said that besides Reghis and Michael, she ordered the filing of information against 18 officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

According to Morales, on February 24, 2010, the SBMA entered into joint-venture agreement (JVA) with HCPTI for the development, operation and management of the Naval Supply Depot and the ports in Boton, Alava, Rivera and Bravo.

“The Terms of Reference granted it concession as exclusive port operator of the five ports and exclusive cargo handling for foreign and domestic break-bulk and bulk cargoes for the entire zone. In exchange, the SBMA stood to receive a fixed and guaranteed share of $32,000,000 for the 25-year agreement, as well as a variable revenue share,” she said.

The case stemmed from separate complaints filed by port operators Amerasia International Terminal Services Inc. (AITSI) and Subic Seaport Terminal Inc. (SSTI), which contested the award to HCPTI.

The Ombudsman determined that as officers and beneficial owners, Reghis and Michael Romero were at the receiving end of the unwarranted benefits as they failed to show that the company was legally entitled to its grant.

“Respondents’ above-described acts readily show that they acted in conspiracy, that is, they came to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decided to commit it,” the resolution said.

However, Reghis and Michael Romero’s other criminal charges for violation of Section 3 (g) and (j) of Republic Act (RA) 3019, and Article 186 (Monopolies and Combinations in Restraint of Trade) of the Revised Penal Code were dismissed for lack of merit.

For the SBMA, Morales ordered the filing of an information for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 against former SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga, former Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Armand Arreza, Senior Deputy Administrator Ramon Agregado, former Senior Deputy Administrator Ferdinand Hernandez, former Deputy Administrator Ma. Cristina Millan, Deputy Administrator Marcelino Sanqui, former Board Members Edralino Cajudo, Member Antonio Rex Chan, Ricardo Coscolluela, Angelita DJ Cruz and Teodoro del Rosario.

Also included as respondents are former Board Members Jorge Estanislao, Ma. Angela Garcia, James Lorenzana, Ma. Victoria Pineda, Stefani Saño, Jennifer Khonghun-Ting and Eddie Tamondong.

Morales said the SBMA officials “displayed manifest partiality and evident bad faith in the performance of their functions.”

The resolution cited the guidelines issued by the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) that a JVA shall only be executed after the conduct of the competitive challenge (bidding) where a private-sector participant has been declared winner and issued a Notice of Award. It also noted that the SBMA resorted to procedural shortcuts and undertook material deviations, including changes in the eligibility requirements.

Morales also said she found that the SBMA pegged the project cost at only P763 million to allow HCPTI to post a lower bid security of P15.26 million, even if the original cost of the JVA was set at P5.537 billion, which should have required a bid security of P100 million.

“By changing the project cost after the publication of the Invitation to Submit Comparative Proposals and imposing additional eligibility requirements, it appears that respondents manipulated the process by enabling HCPTI to post a significantly lower bid security and, at the same time, discouraging prospective JV partners from participating in the competitive challenge by imposing conditions for participation based on the higher project cost,” the resolution explained.

Meanwhile, in a 20-page decision on the administrative aspect of the AITSI complaint, Morales said she found the commission of grave misconduct and ordered the dismissal from the service of Agregado, Sanqui and Salonga with the accessory penalties of absolute disqualification from holding any public office, forfeiture of retirement benefits, cancellation of civil service eligibility, and bar from taking any civil service examination.

The same principal penalty would have been imposed on Arreza, Millan, Cajudo, Coscolluela, Cruz, del Rosario, Estanislao, Lorenzana, Pineda, Saño, Ting and Tamondong had they not been separated from the service during the pendency of the case. They were, however, each ordered to pay a fine equivalent to their salary for one year deductible from their retirement benefits, accrued leave credits and other receivables, aside from facing the same accessory penalties.

The Ombudsman, however, said the administrative case against Hernandez, Chan and Garcia was dismissed in view of their separation from the service prior to the filing of the case.

The second administrative case for violation of Section 5(a) of RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) was dismissed for lack of merit, in a separate seven-page decision on the administrative aspect of the SSTI complaint. (Jovee Marie N. dela Cruz, Business Mirror)