Supreme Court junks case vs ex-Gov. Joson over anomalous hotel construction
The Supreme Court has cleared former Nueva Ecija Governor Tomas Joson III over the alleged irregular award made for the construction of a hotel in the province.
In a recent decision penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the court en banc said the mere fact that Joson was the head of the procuring entity and the governor of Nueva Ecija did not automatically make him the party ultimately liable for the disallowed amount of P155 million for the establishment of the Nueva Ecija Friendship Hotel, now Sierra Madre Suite, to private contractor, A.V.T. Construction.
The case stemmed from the findings of the Special Audit Team (SAT) of the Commission on Audit (COA), which conducted a special audit of selected transaction of Nueva Ecija provincial government from 2004-2007.
The SAT found the members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), its technical working group, the provincial accountants, the provincial engineer and Joson, in his capacity as provincial governor and head of the procuring entity, solidarily liable for the disallowed amount.
Joson filed a petition for exclusion from liability arguing that he should not be held liable for the disallowed amount since the determination of whether a prospective bidder was eligible or not was the exclusive responsibility of the BAC.
If indeed there was a liability, he added that the members of the BAC should be held liable since they were the persons directly responsible for the transaction.
“Assuming that petitioner Joson III committed a mistake in not ensuring that the eligibility documents were attached to the contract, it is settled that mistakes committed by a public officer are not actionable absent any clear showing that they were motivated by malice or gross negligence amounting to bad faith,” the decision read.
In this case, the high court said there was no showing that Joson was motivated by malice or gross negligence amounting to bad faith in failing to ensure that the eligibility documents of A.V.T. Construction were not attached to the contract.
The Court said there was even no evidence that the former governor was aware that construction company was ineligible due to the absence of the pre-qualification or eligibility checklist using the “pass/fail” criteria, the Net Financial Contracting Capacity (NFCC) and the technical eligibility documents.
“Good faith is always presumed. Here, the COA failed to overcome the presumption of good faith,” it said.
The high court also said it would be unjust to let Joson shoulder the disallowed amount, not only because he was not the one directly responsible for the absence of the eligibility documents of A.V.T. Construction, but also because the government had already received and accepted benefits from the utilization of the hotel.
It also said there was no showing that the former provincial executive was ill-motivated or that he had personally profited from the transaction.
“Here, the Nueva Ecija Friendship Hotel, now named Sierra Madre Suites, is fully functional and in operation. It now operates as one of the provincial government’s economic enterprises,” the Court said.
“It is therefore unjust enrichment to the prejudice of the petitioner to make him personally liable for the disallowed amount considering that the hotel is being enjoyed and utilized by the provincial government,” it added. #
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