Several members of the Dumaguete City Councilors have questioned the billing statements by Aladdin Restaurant & Café. This foreign-owned restaurant was awarded the 10 Million food contract to supply breakfast, lunch and dinner to frontliners manning the COVID-19 checkpoints, barangay tanods, locally stranded individuals and isolation facility personnel. However, as further investigations made, a new dilemma emerges. Read more below!
10 Million Food Contract & Handwritten Receipts
The contract awarded to Aladdin Restaurant & Café was questioned and filled with doubt by the city councilors after the owner shows billing statements that were handwritten on ordinary paper. The new restaurant is owned by a foreigner named Patrick George and business partner Dr. Rosana Remollo Habaña. An inquiry into the deal or contract 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.
Upon investigation, it was learned that Councilor Edgar Lentorio asked Mr. George around April 6 if he was interested in supplying meals to frontliners in Dumaguete City. Mr. George was interested and agreed to the deal with the promise of being paid within 15-30 days. Councilor Edgar Lentorio, who is Mr. George’s lawyer, also happens to be the owner of Keith’s Lechon in Bagacay. Aladdin Restaurant then rented Lentorio’s lechon space behind his law office to set up their kitchen.
Aside from being a lawyer and lechon owner, Councilor Edgar Lentorio also supplier Mr. George some meat which was then used for cooking. The councilor also bought food boxes on credit from a local store called “143 Store” in Dumaguete. However, during the investigation, Mr. George denied Councilor Lentorio as a subcontractor for his business. He also stated that no money was given to any public official, including Councilor Lentorio.
Mr. George demanded the city government to keep their end of the deal, saying that other food supplier had already received payment. The “other food supplier” that made a 7 Million pesos contract is Boy Kanin, owned by Atty. Raymund Mercado.
Getting back to the Aladdin investigation, Officials of the City Social Welfare & Development Office had vouched for the receipt of the food packs from Aladdin. They also vouch for the “swift deliveries” for more food that were urgently needed “unlike the other food supplier who used to deliver spoiled meals”. However, many eyebrows were raised in the City Hall after the owner presents billing statements that are handwritten on ordinary paper and not an official receipt.
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.”
Receipts or Mayor’s Permit – NONE!
After further investigation, it was, later on, learned that Aladdin Restaurant & Café did not have a Mayor’s Permit. 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. Moreover, it states that only businesses with pending renewals for Mayor’s Permits may be considered.
In the case of Mr. George, it was explained during the session that they had applied for a Mayor’s Permit. However, it was not immediately processed by some City Hall offices due to the pandemic. 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,” Councilor Arbon said.
Councilor Joe Kenneth Arbas, on the other hand, said that “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”.
To make things more interesting, the City Councilors have questioned Faronito Ablong as well. Mr. Ablong it the inspector at the Internal Audit Office who signed the inspection report, however, confessed that he never saw any of the alleged deliveries. Councilor Agustin “Tincho” Perdices noted that the inspection report was made on the same day the Purchase Order was also made.
In truth, because of COVID and the ECQ, we did not know that the frontliners had catering. I was only told by Sir Dinno 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.
According to Councilor Perdices, Mr. Ablong was asked to sign on May 20 after not finding anything wrong with the papers. Councilor Perdices, who is a restauranteur, also questioned the BAC’s lack of specifications in making the Purchase Order. He questioned why the P.O. did not indicate what the City was actually paying Php 365 for.
If I have an order for 300 meal boxes and I put 100 grams of adobo and one cup of rice, 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 continued.
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,” Vice Mayor said.
Vice Mayor Cordova 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.”
After the session, Vice Mayor Cordova revealed to local reporters that there was an attempt not to bring up the issue of the 10 Million food contract 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.
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 in an interview.