Bantag charged with plunder, graft

Proof of indictment Bureau of Corrections chief Gregorio Catapang shows a copy of the complaint-affidavit against former BuCor head Gerald Bantag on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. PHOTO BY MIKE ALQUINTO

LUNDER and graft charges were filed on Monday before the Department of Justice (DoJ) against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and six other bureau officials in connection with the construction of three prison facilities costing almost P1 billion.

The complaints were filed by BuCor acting chief Gregorio Catapang.

Al Ferreras, BuCor legal counsel, said that aside from plunder, Bantag was charged with 11 counts of malversation through falsification of public documents, 12 counts of graft and corruption, and 12 counts of violation of the “Code of Ethics and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” (Republic Act 6713).

Also sued were Correction Technical Superintendent Arnold Jacinto Guzman, Correction Inspector 1 Ric Rocacurba, CO1 Solomon Areniego, CTO1 Jor-el de Jesus, CTO2 Angelo Castillo and CTO 2 Alexis Catindig.

Plunder is a non-bailable offense.

In a six-page complaint, BuCor said that while Bantag was bureau director, a P1-billion project to build prison facilities at the Davao Prison and Penal Farm, Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and Leyte Regional Prison were bid out on Sept. 17, 2020.

Bantag allegedly created a separate Bidding and Award Committee (BAC) and named Supt. John Paul Santos as its chairman and Virginia Mangawit as a member.

Santos and Mangawit are officials of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), making them non-permanent officials of BuCor, and rendering their appointment to the bidding committee illegal, the complaint stated.

The committee then allowed the group of CB Garay Philwide Builders and Rakki Corp. to bid for the Davao and Iwahig projects, and the joint venture of CB Garay Philwide Builders and Evans Sesbreño Constructions to bid for the Leyte project.

The complaint said the companies were not qualified to bid because they did not submit the Statement of Single Largest Completed Contract (SLCC) which stipulated that at least 50 percent of the project must be completed within four years.

It alleged that the bidding committee changed the four-year requirement to 10 years to show that the two joint ventures complied with the SLCC requirement.

But there were no records that the committee issued a Supplemental Bid Bulletin showing the amendment of the four-year requirement, Ferreras said.

He alleged that out of the P900 million allocated for the project, about P273 million was misappropriated by Bantag and his co-respondents.

The lawyer said BuCor will file a separate case against them for rigging the bidding “because all of the proponents were disqualified for unknown reasons.”

The respondents also lied in the accomplishment reports for the three projects, Ferreras said.

In the Iwahig project, for example, the government already paid for about 93 percent when in fact only 57 percent was completed.

In the case of the Davao project, 95 percent was already paid when in fact only about 59 percent was completed.

The government had paid for 80 percent of the Leyte facility, but only 47 percent was completed, he said.

He said four other cases are being prepared against Bantag, including the P100-million project at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City and the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro.

Bantag already faces a murder complaint along with jail officer Ricardo Zulueta and several convicts in the New Bilibid Prison in connection with the killing of broadcast commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa.

The cases were filed jointly before the DoJ by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police.

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