Ex-DPWH head cited for conflict of interest

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc

Can a former government official work for a company to which he granted a contract? That legal poser confronts ex-public works secretary Rogelio Singson.

As DPWH chief, Singson had sat in the board of directors of the Light Rail Transit Authority, operator of LRT-1 and -2. In July 2014 that board awarded the P9.35-billion LRT-1 extension to the private Light Rail Manila Consortium (LRMC). On leaving the government two years later Singson joined LRMC as president. He is now implementing the very contract he had granted to LRMC, among other activities for which he deals with erstwhile subordinates and associates.

That’s clear conflict of interest, according to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House of Reps Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. Singson is in breach of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713), they say. He must desist.

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The contract award states:

“Whereas, the Board, taking into consideration the SBAC Resolution of 21 July 2014 recommending award, and the LRTA Board Resolution of 9 June 2014 as stated above, resolved as follows:

“Now therefore, be it resolved as it is hereby resolved, to approve the award of the Manila LRT-1 Cavite Extension project to the Light Rail Manila Consortium as recommended by the DOTC Special Bids and Awards Committee through resolution dated 21 July 2014 in the amount of Nine Billion Three Hundred Fifty Million One Hundred Three Thousand Nine Hundred Pesos  (P9,350,103,900) concession fee payment;

“Resolved further, to authorize DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya to sign and issue the pertinent Notice of Award (NOA) and Concession Agreement (CA) for and on behalf of LRTA;

“Resolved furthermore, to authorize LRTA to open blocked account as required by the Concession Agreement;

“Resolved finally, to designate and authorize LRTA Administrator Honorito D. Chaneco, and LRTA Finance Department Manager Marilou B. Liscano as signatories of the said blocked account.

“In witness whereof, we have hereunto affixed our signatures: Honorito Chaneco, member (LRTA); Dr. Epictetus Patalinghug, private sector representative; Francis Tolentino, member (MMDA); Sec. Arsenio Balicasan, member (NEDA); Sec. Florencio Abad, member (DBM); Sec. Cesar Purisima, member (DOF); Winston Ginez, member (LTFRB); Sec. Rogelio T. Singson, member (DPWH); Sec. Joseph Emilio A. Abaya, chairman (DOTC).”

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As government official, Singson was and still is bound by the 1989 Code of Conduct, which states:

“Section 7. Prohibited Acts and Transactions. – In addition to acts and omissions of public officials and employees now prescribed in the Constitution and existing laws, the following shall constitute prohibited acts and transactions of any public official and employee and are hereby declared to be unlawful:

“(a) Financial and material interest. – Public officials and employees shall not, directly or indirectly, have any financial or material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of their office.

“(b) Outside employment and other activities related thereto. – Public officials and employees during their incumbency shall not:

“ (1) Own, control, manage or accept employment as officer, employee, consultant, counsel, broker, agent, trustee or nominee, in any private enterprise regulated, supervised or licensed by their office unless expressly allowed by law;

“(2) Engage in the private practice of their profession unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided, that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions; or

“(3) Recommend any person to any position in a private enterprise which has a regular or pending official transaction with their office.

“These prohibitions shall continue to apply for a period of one (1) year after resignation, retirement or separation from public office, except in the case of subparagraph (b) (2) above, but the professional concerned cannot practice his profession in connection with any matter before the office he used to be with, in which case the one-year prohibition shall likewise apply.”

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Speaker Alvarez and Majority Leader Fariñas confronted Singson at the hearing of the House committee on transportation last Wednesday. Singson was then presenting LRMC’s plans for a common station of the LRT-1, MRT-3, and MRT-7 on North Avenue, Quezon City. Construction of that station is much delayed. Cost has risen from the original P778 million in 2009 to P2.8 billion today. Not included in that estimate is what DPWH will spend to build a tunnel, since the station would occupy what should be a ground-level road.

Singson said he was aware of the Code of Conduct's prohibitions on public officials. The Civil Service Commission and private lawyers supposedly counseled him that it was alright to join LRMC. Fariñas retorted that Singson apparently got bum advice. The latter said he would resign if necessary.

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The Supreme Court expounded on Section 7 in a 2008 en banc ruling. The case concerned a lawyer who, upon retiring as clerk of court of a regional trial court branch in Romblon, went into private practice. That practice happened to include four civil cases within a few weeks in the very RTC branch where she had worked. The SC stated:

“The general intent of the law, as defined in its title is to uphold the time-honored principle of public office being a public trust. Section 4 thereof provides for the norms of conduct of public officials and employees, among others: (a) commitment to public interest; (b) professionalism; and (c) justness and sincerity. Of particular significance is the statement under professionalism that public officials and employees shall endeavor to discourage wrong perceptions of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage.

“Thus, it may be well to say that the prohibition was intended to avoid any impropriety or the appearance of impropriety which may occur in any transaction between the retired government employee and his former colleagues, subordinates or superiors brought about by familiarity, moral ascendancy or undue influence."

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