Ombud junks case vs. Rama, 5 others over SRP lot sales

THE Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed the case filed by former mayor Tomas Osmeña against Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and five others over the sale of South Road Properties (SRP) lots in 2015.

The dismissal of the case in favor of Rama and former members of the Committee on Awards means that “all questions about the legality of the sale of SRP through the process of bidding are already closed,” said Jerone Castillo, city legal officer and special assistant to Rama, in a text message to SunStar Cebu Tuesday, May 9, 2023.

However, Osmeña did not agree.

In a 10-page decision penned by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Marius Fitzgerald Veloso and approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on March 4, 2023, the criminal and administrative charges against Rama and members of the Committee on Awards were dismissed for lack of merit.

Osmeña filed the complaint on Dec. 6, 2019 against Rama and former members of the Committee on Awards including Lucelle Mercado, Diwa Cuevas, lawyer Jerone Castillo, Marrieta Gumia, and Mark Rossel Salomon for violation of Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Section 4 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and for grave misconduct.

Osmeña’s complaint stemmed from the sale of three SRP lots on Aug. 7, 2015: SRP Lot 8 to the SM-Ayala Consortium, and Lots 7 and 17 to JG Summit and Filinvest Group, with a total lot area of 455,769 square meters.

Based on the decision of the Ombudsman, a review of complainant’s allegation of malfeasance against the respondents is anchored on the issue of whether Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) Resolution 13-0418-2014 can validly amend or supersede City Ordinance 2332.

City Ordinance 2332 seeks to protect the SRP and its stakeholders from unlawful and unauthorized transactions. Moreover, Section 2 of this ordinance provides that interested parties, investors, or stakeholders may submit unsolicited proposals subject to study and evaluation of the merits and benefits of such proposals.

On Aug. 13, 2014, two years after the passage of the ordinance, SP Resolution 13-0418-2014 had been approved by the City Council, authorizing the disposal of 455,769 square meters of lots in the SRP through public bidding.

The Committee on Awards conducted a pre-bidding conference on June 18, 2015 and on July 15 of the same year, the Committee on Awards recommended to award Lot 8 to SM-Ayala Consortium and Lots 7 and 17 to JG Summit and Filinvest Group.

On Aug. 5, 2015, the City Council passed Resolution 13-0295-2015, deferring the signing of the Deeds of Sale of SRP properties with, and the payment thereof from, the winning bidders, which in this case were SM-Ayala Consortium and JG Summit and Filinvest Group.

Rama though formally executed the Negotiated Sale on Installment with SM-Ayala Consortium and JG Summit and Filinvest Group on Aug. 7 of the same year.

The Ombudsman upheld the pronouncement which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals’ decision dated April 30, 2019 and Supreme Court Resolution dated Jan. 6, 2020 that SP Resolution 13-0418-2014 “being merely an implementing resolution, cannot be construed to be in conflict with said ordinance.”

“Corollary, there is no iota of doubt that Cebu City Resolution No. 13-0418-2014 is valid,” the Ombudsman stated in its decision.

The respondents received the decision of the Ombudsman in the first week of May.

Osmeña told SunStar Tuesday that he had yet to receive a copy of the decision.

He also said he still had a pending motion with the Court of Appeals.

“It’s not the end of our fight against corruption,” said Osmeña.