Anti-graft court convicts Ace Durano; Gwen denies she’s behind it

THE Sandiganbayan has convicted former tourism secretary and Cebu gubernatorial candidate Joseph Felix Mari “Ace” Durano for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act over the development of the tourism department’s wall-calendar project in 2009 that allegedly failed to undergo public bidding.

But Durano, in a statement, said the Nov. 26, 2021 decision of the anti-graft court to convict him was “politically motivated.”

“Two cases filed against me have been dismissed. But when I announced that I will be running for governor, the decision of this case suddenly crops up. It’s clear for me who is behind this,” Durano said.

In a statement Thursday, Dec. 2, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, whose reelection bid is being challenged by Durano, urged her political rival to “to stop whining and face the case like a man.”

In 2019, the Office of the Ombudsman had sued Durano and five other Department of Tourism (DOT) officials over the matter.

Also sued were DOT Undersecretary Oscar Palabyab, Grace Yoro, Eduardo Jarque Jr., Evelyn Cajigal and Adriana Flor, who all served as bids and awards committee (BAC) members of the department.

In the 57-page decision of the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division chaired by Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, Durano was convicted of violating Republic Act 3019 for allegedly conniving with officials of the DOT’s BAC to favor PDP Digital Inc. for a P2.7 million deal for the “conceptualization and development” of DOT’s 2009 wall calendar.

The Sandiganbayan said Durano showed “manifest partiality” by disregarding government bidding processes in awarding PDP Digital Inc. with the contract without resorting to competitive bidding.

The Sandiganbayan sentenced Durano and the five other DOT officials to six years and a month in prison and to be perpetually disqualified from public office.

Durano, however, said the alternative mode of procurement the DOT used was allowed “in dealing with government transactions if goods and services are considered ‘proprietary in nature.’”

Lawyer Dwight Remedio, Durano’s legal counsel, told reporters they will file a motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan to appeal his client’s case.

Remedio said they had not yet received a copy of the anti-graft court’s decision on Durano’s case.

“We are still awaiting our hard copy of the Decision since promulgation was done online and the court will send us a copy, but definitely we will file a motion for reconsideration of the decision,” Remedio said.

Durano questioned the timing of the anti-graft court’s decision to convict him, saying he was first sued in 2016, six years after he had left his post at the DOT.

Durano said the case will not dampen his plans to win in Cebu’s gubernatorial race.

“I said before that fighting the incumbent is like scaling Mt. Apo, and this is just one proof, naa kalit obstacle mogawas (suddenly an obstacle has appeared). Sa 20 years nga nagserbisyo ko sa gobyerno ug sa katawhan, karon lang gyud intawon nga naa tay kaso nga nilansar ta pagka gobernador (In 20 years of service in government and to the people, this is the only time I am facing a case now that I am running for governor),” Durano said.

Garcia, in her statement, urged Durano to stop accusing her of masterminding his legal problems.

“Politically motivated? I understand the information was filed against Mr. Durano sometime in 2017. And the Office of the Ombudsman filed a case against Mr. Durano on March 22, 2019. I was not even governor then, on both dates. So how could it be politically motivated? By clairvoyance?” Garcia said. (JKV, ANV)