Over P500-k toga rental during pandemic:

COA audit team now looking into graft complaint vs. VG Abundo

The Commission on Audit has began looking into allegations of graft and other violations against Vice Governor Shirley Abundo and three other individuals over a P500,000 contract covering the rental of toga in March 2020 during the first month of pandemic quarantine.

Last month, COA Regional Director Joel Estolatan informed the complainant, radio blocktimer Janelyn Rima, that the complaint had been referred to the concerned Audit Team Leader for evaluation pursuant to COA Memorandum No. 2020-014 dated Sept. 30, 2020.

“Rest assured that we will inform you of the results thereof once final results of evaluation is submitted,” Dir. Estolatan stated.

Records show that Rima filed the affidavit-complaint against the vice governor, Acting Provincial Treasurer Marilou Vargas, Provincial Accountant Sonia Villaluna and BAT Trading proprietor Serafin Abundo Jr. sometime in June 2020.

She accused the vice governor and the two provincial department heads of grave abuse of authority, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties, serious dishonesty, conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and violation of Republic Act 6713 and COA Circular No. 2012-003.

Rima likewise charged the trio, along with supplier Serafin Abundo, with frauds against the public treasury, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Some 17 months later, on Nov. 22, 2021, Assistant Ombudsman Pilarita Lapitan referred the complaint to the COA regional office.

The affidavit-complaint started that on Feb. 3, 2020, then Acting Governor Abundo approved a purchase request for the rental of 3,333 toga sets that will be distributed to 38 recipient schools of the Department of Education.

Each toga rental was estimated to cost P150, with the entire expense coming up to P499,950.00, with the funding taken from the P4.7-million Donation Account of the General Administration and Support Services of the Office of the Governor.

On March 6, 2020, the bidding for the supply and delivery of the togas through Small Value Procurement (SVP) was undertaken, nine days before the Enhanced Community Quarantine was declared on March 15.

Subsequently, the acting governor approved the Notice of Award on March 11 and the Notice to Proceed on March 27.

Complainant Rima noted that on March 14, 2020, or three days after approving the award of the contract, Acting Gov. Abundo issued Executive Order No. 15 establishing strict measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Catanduanes, including the prohibition of mass gatherings.

The Abundo EO stated that the conduct of graduation rites shall follow the DepEd guidelines in consultation with the Department of Health.

Rima said that from the time the EO was issued until June 2, 2020 when the affidavit-complaint was executed and subscribed, no graduation rites and commencement exercises took place in any school in Catanduanes, except for the virtual rites at Palta National High School, one of the 38 recipient schools in the Abundo contract.

Despite the declaration of the pandemic quarantine, then Acting Gov. Abundo failed to terminate the toga rental contract.

RA 9184 allows the procuring entity to terminate a contract, in whole or in part, at any time for its convenience, if it “has determined the existence of conditions that make project implementation economically, financially or technically impractical and/or unnecessary, such as, but not limited to, fortuitous event(s) or changes in law and national government policies.”

During the extension of the pandemic lockdown until April 15, 2020, BAT Trading allegedly delivered the 3,333 toga sets rented by the provincial government, with the Inspectorate Committee inspecting the goods which were received on April 7.

Then Acting Gov. Abundo, acting treasurer Vargas and accountant Villaluna approved the toga rental contract for payment through a check dated April 17, 2020 and with net amount of P463,703.62.

Rima said the whereabouts of the 3,333 sets of toga supposedly delivered to the Office of the Governor have remained unaccounted for

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