Multi-million Philippine Irrigation Scam

It took up all of four years to build up a strong case to expose the so-called Talibon dam scam but in one fell swoop it was gone after the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas dismissed the case for lack of substantial legal basis.

The dismissal ended the lonely saga of Engr. Nilo Sarigumba, chair of the Boholanos Against Corruption, Oppression and Social Harassment (BACOSH) who was so obsessed of sending the perpetrators to jail only to be waylaid by a resolution he viewed with suspicion because of the machinations of some unseen and powerful hands.

Asked to react on insinuations of unseen hands as behind the case dismissal, Gov. Erico Aumentado minced no words in saying that it came from a polluted source whose motive was to discredit the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman.
When appraised of the case's dismissal, Sarigumba, in a radio interview apparently threw up his hands in surrender and invoked divine justice to punish the perpetrators.

Although the complaint was made up of several accused who are officials and employees of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Sarigumba's main target was Engr. Calixto Seroje, project manager of the questionable dam project.

The only hope, albeit slim, of the complainant was a motion for reconsideration which his legal counsel Artemio Cabatos has filed last August 19.

In his motion, Sarigumba through Cabatos cited an instance in dismissing the case where the graft investigator departed from the law and the evidence and that, resultantly, it has deprived the complainants---sovereign citizen-taxpayers-their day in court.

In dismissing the complaint, the Ombudsman through Sarah Vergara, graft investigation and prosecution officer II, based its findings on several considerations impelling her to yield to the presumption of regularity in the implementation of the project, at least for the moment.

While the Ombudsman admitted that it saw amidst the assortment of findings gathered by the NIA after its fact-finding investigation was the indubitable complexity and breath of the works involved, it also took cognizance to the fact that the project was not yet completed and its finances not yet been subjected to a post-audit by the Commission on Audit.

According to the anti-graft investigator, the COA conducted an inspection of the project on January 26, 1999 and it thereafter declared that it " interposed no objection of the reported 49.0l% project accomplishment as of December 1998".

MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

Zeroing in on the four years of painstaking wait for the case to prosper in court, the motion for reconsideration instead lamented its outcome which it described as a strange verdict of dismissal for lack of substantial legal basis.

At least seven points were raised by the complainants' lawyer in filing the motion for reconsideration.

Calling it with cranial and cardiac pains, they are:

1. The four years that the instant case took before it was resolved is, in itself, annoying to the citizens of this country who care about the rule of law, official probity and a regime of unadulterated justice.

2. Complainants got a dash of hope when the NIA Fact-Finding Team reported irregularities in the questioned project, and a "Final Evaluation Report" categorically declared the presence of prima facie case against respondents, particularly Seroje.

3. An audit formally showed that as of December, 1993, only about 49.01% of the project had been accomplished, and yet the project outlay of P165 million had been exhausted. Where had about 50% of the appropriation gone?

4. On June 22, 2006-about two years from the filing of the complaint-Graft Investigator and Prosecution Officer Sarah Jo Vergara penned a resolution recommending the dismissal of the instant case for lack of substantial merit.

5. Years earlier, the office of the Ombudsman, found prima facie case against respondents. What happened in the interim which led to the lack of substantial legal basis finding on June 22, 2006.

6. The resumption of the works on the questioned project was made possible through fresh funding as the project cost in the sum of P165 million had been exhausted with no Small Reservoir Impounding Project (SRIP) being born: Why the lack of substantial basis?

7. Complainants' suspicion says that the questioned project, mysterious in itself, was shrouded with mysteries from the finding of prima facie case until the resolution of dismissal for lack of substantial legal basis.