MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has cleared former transportation secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya of graft charges in connection with the allegedly anomalous P4.25-billion contract awarded to South Korean firm Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) for the maintenance of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3).
In a 51-page resolution, the ombudsman overturned its May 2018 decision ordering the filing of graft complaint against Abaya and 16 others.
Ombudsman prosecutors argued that BURI has been penalized for the problems that cropped up during the implementation of the project through deductions in payments and subsequent termination of the contract.
“The problems hounding the MRT-3 railway operations appeared to be in the implementation stage of the long-term maintenance contract, involving issues that were not present during the screening, negotiation and bidding process thereof,” the resolution read.
“Considering that the scope of the allegations in the complaints focused only on the respondents’ acts during the procurement process for the MRT-3 maintenance contract, appears to be above board, this office has no recourse except to reconsider its finding of probable cause against the respondents and dismiss the complaints against them,” the ombudsman added.
Aside from Abaya, also cleared of graft charges were former transportation undersecretaries Edwin Lopez (operations), Rene Limcaoco (planning/head of negotiating team), Catherine Jennifer Gonzales (procurement and administration/vice head of the negotiating team), former MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe, assistant secretary for procurement and bid and awards (BAC) committee chair Camille Alcaraz, former BAC vice chair Ofelia Astrera and BAC members Charissa Eloisa Opulencia, Oscar Bongon and Jose Rodante Sabayle.
The ombudsman also dismissed the graft cases filed against BURI incorporators Eldon Ferdinand Uy, Elizabeth Velasco, Belinda Tan, Brian Velasco, Antonio Borromeo, Jun Ho Hwang and Elpidio Uy.
In the same resolution, the ombudsman affirmed its May 2018 decision dismissing the complaints for graft, plunder and violation of procurement law against Cabinet officials during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III.
They are Mar Roxas, Florencio Abad (budget), Cesar Purisima (finance), Jericho Petilla (energy), Mario Montejo (science), Voltaire Gazmin (defense), Rogelio Singson (public works) and Arsenio Balisacan (economic development). – Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero