30 October 2008

Revisiting the ASEAN Lamp Post Scam

Cebu Lamp Posts
Some people say that Filipinos really do have a short memory and are very much forgiving. I actually do not believe this, but there is one case that was just brought to my attention that seem to belabor the point.

Let us take a look back at what happened last January 2007 in Cebu City during the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting. The event was not known for its famous declaration or economic treaties among nations, but by the allegedly inflating bills for lamp posts installed to beautify the streets of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.

On April 2008, the Ombudsman's office has dismissed a group of public servants for the installation of the overpriced decorative lamp posts and administrative actions were recommended against one director and eight subordinates of the public works department, eight city engineers, two mayors, and two contractors.

In a 25-page decision, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez assailed public works regional director Robert Lala and his eight colleagues for acquiring 1,800 lamp posts and other street lighting facilities that were "excessively overpriced" at PhP 365 million pesos.

The overpricing was proven by the simple comparison of the Program of Works and Detailed Estimates that was prepared by the local government units and documents of lamp post import from China.

The documents showed that the declared prices were ten times more than the cost at which the lighting equipment were imported, explained Gutierrez. A single-arm pole imported at PhP 7,536 was declared for PhP 72,500.

What happened to the case? Well, it seems that the Office of the Ombudsman has a change of heart. Unconfirmed reports had it that in her single-page order dated 30 July 2008, Gutierrez authorized the withdrawal of the cases and directed prosecutors "to conduct further investigation with the end view of obtaining additional evidence."

Acting Deputy Special Prosecutor Jesus Micael and Prosecution Bureau II Acting Director Danilo Lopez are said to be ‘apprehensive’ about questions raised by the defendants on the authenticity of crucial documentary evidence gathered by investigators.

After the case was buried by new controversies and as another headline-grabbing topic takes the interest of the public, the issue about the overpriced lamp post is slowly taken off the shelf to allow the guilty party to leave unscathed. Who would think that this certain politician or government executive committed a crime 3-5 years from now if they were not actually punished?

If Filipinos do really have a short memory and will likely to forgive more than penalize anybody for any wrongdoing, then we might see another predictable ending to a graft case in this country.