The City of Dumaguete came under fire from several members of the Dumaguete City Council for the doubtful billing statements of a food supplier which was awarded a P10 million contract to supply breakfast, lunch, and dinner to personnel manning the CoViD-19 checkpoints, barangay tanods, those in isolation facilities, and locally-stranded individuals.
The deal with Aladdin Restaurant & Cafe came under scrutiny after Councilors expressed doubt on the authenticity of its billing statement which was based on handwritten notes on ordinary paper.
An inquiry into the deal by the City with Aladdin Restaurant was initiated on July 16 in the City Council by the Committee on Rules, Ordinances & Legal Matters and Good Governance, and discussed in the City Council sessions on July 22 and July 29.
Aladdin Restaurant is a new company owned by a foreigner named Patrick George and business partner Dr. Rosana Habaña.
In the July 16 meeting, it was revealed that Councilor Edgar Lentorio, who also owns a meat supply and lechon business, asked George around April 6 if he was interested to supply meals to the frontliners of the City of Dumaguete.
George said he agreed because he was promised by Councilor Lentorio, who he said is also his lawyer, that he will be paid within 15 to 30 days.
Aladdin Restaurant then rented Lentorio’s “Keith’s Lechon” space behind his law office in Bagacay, and set up their kitchen.
George said Councilor Lentorio also supplied some meat to Aladdin, and that the Councilor also bought the food boxes on credit from 143 Store to be used by Aladdin Restaurant.
During the investigation, George denied that Councilor Lentorio was subcontracting his business, and said he has not given any money to any public official.
George had demanded payment, saying that the other food supplier had already received payment.
The other food supplier is “Boy Kanin” owned by Atty. Raymund Mercado, which had a P7 million contract to also supply food.
George and Dr. Habaña said they will send a demand letter to the City to enforce their right to collect payment.
Officials of the City Social Welfare & Development Office had vouched for the receipt of the food packs from Aladdin, and their “swift deliveries” for urgent needs for more food, “unlike the other food supplier who used to deliver spoiled meals”.
The billing statement of Aladdin, however, raised eyebrows at the City Council after submitting supporting documents showing “delivery receipts” handwritten on ordinary pieces of paper.
“A transaction worth P10 million, and not one official delivery receipt — isn’t this questionable?,” asked Councilor Joe Kenneth Arbas. “Any legitimate business registered with the BIR can print official receipts authorized by the BIR.”
It was later learned that Aladdin does not have a Mayor’s Permit.
City Legal Officer Manuel Arbon, who chairs the Bids and Awards Committee, said the purchase was considered an emergency purchase because of the CoViD- 19 pandemic, and as such, the transaction was initiated by the City Mayor’s Office.
“In a normal bidding [process], there are many requirements. In emergency procurement, it is streamlined given the [pandemic] situation, as nobody was able to prepare for this. There may have been processes that were not followed but the bottom line is that as far as the City is concerned, the questions are: Did the City need food? Yes. Was the food delivered? Yes,” Arbon explained.
While the rules of the Government Procurement Policy Board do not prohibit the City from awarding a contract to a second cousin of the Head of the Procuring Entity, it states that only businesses with pending renewals for Mayor’s Permits may be considered.
In the case of Aladdin, it was explained during the session that they had applied for a Mayor’s Permit but that it was not immediately processed by some City Hall offices due to the pandemic.
“It may not be the fault of Aladdin that it does not have a business permit, or why he was given a P10 million contract — of all legitimate businesses in Dumaguete, but it is also a fault on our part because we know the law,” Councilor Arbas said.
The City Councilors also questioned Faronito Ablong, inspector at the Internal Audit Office, as to why he signed the inspection report when he admitted that he never saw any of the alleged deliveries.
“In truth, because of CoViD and the ECQ, we did not know that the frontliners had catering. I was only told by Sir Dinno [Depositario] that some papers needed to be signed. But I did not inspect the delivery of food to the frontliners. It was an emergency, and we also needed to have the documents signed so that the caterer could be paid,”Ablong admitted, referring to Dinno Depositario, head of the Human Resources Division.
Councilor Agustin “Tincho” Perdices noted that the inspection report was made on the same day the Purchase Order was also made.
He said Faronito Ablong’s name was written on the inspection report, but that he was not told about it. He said the report has a “certification” indicating that the subject in the report was “inspected, verified, and found everything correct as to specifications” and yet, he never actually inspected it.
“On May 20, he [Faronito Ablong] was asked to sign. He said he did not think there was something wrong,” Perdices continued.
Perdices also questioned the BAC’s lack of specifications in making the Purchase Order.
“In the job order, they just placed ‘Provision of meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner. P365 per day.’ What did the supplier commit to supply? We came up with a specific unit price without a specification of what we were buying.”
Perdices, who is also a restaurateur, questioned why the P.O. did not indicate what the City was actually paying P365 for.
“If I have an order for 300 meal boxes, and I put 100 grams of adobo and one cup of rice [in each box], then all of a sudden, my client asks if I can add 75 boxes more, there is an opportunity that instead of putting 7,500 more [grams of adobo], I will just put 75 grams [on each box] so that what I had prepared for 300 meals, I can just repack into 375 meal boxes.”
Perdices said: “It will not cost me more, I will be able to charge more, and the customer will never know because they don’t know what they were supposed to receive.”
He clarified, “I’m not saying that happened, but without a [clear]description [of what we are paying for], we put ourselves in a position that it could happen, and that we are taken advantage of. And neither can anybody say that that did not happen.”
Vice Mayor Alan Gel Cordova lamented the shortcuts in purchasing the meals.
“We make excuses. But we have been around for so many years, and we make it appear like we are just five months into the job. It’s not our money, that’s why we have this attitude; we just sign documents so that they can be reconciled.”
He said that as professional skeptics, we cannot prove or disprove any doubts in terms of speeches. “Let’s look at documents. Documents will prove or disprove our statements.”
In an interview after the session last week, Vice Mayor Cordova revealed to reporters that there was an attempt not to bring up the issue of the P10 million food deal out in the open.
While he did not name the person who tried to prevent the Sangguniang Panlungsod from discussing it in the session, the Vice Mayor said he is thankful that Councilor Arbas insisted on examining the issue in public.
Cordova vowed the City Council will continue to pursue the issue until it is clarified, lest the public will be surprised why it will just be swept under the rug.
He said that while he does not want to dwell on the matter, the thought that certain government officials benefitted unjustly from the deal, especially during a pandemic, continues to bother his conscience.
“Some people are certainly not forthcoming with the facts. But we will continue to investigate, and make people accountable, if necessary,” the Vice Mayor told the MetroPost.