Ombudsman suspends NIA chief over workers’ gripes

Benny Antiporda. STORY: Ombudsman suspends NIA chief over workers’ gripes

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday ordered the suspension of National Irrigation Administration (NIA) acting chief Benny Antiporda for grave misconduct, among other charges, following a lengthy complaint filed by the agency’s employees.

Antiporda confirmed to the Inquirer that the suspension order had been served on him and that his office was padlocked.ADVERTISEMENT

He dismissed the allegations against him as “petty” and suggested that they were in retaliation for his anticorruption drive in the agency.

The six-page order signed on Tuesday by Ombudsman Samuel Martires stated that Antiporda’s six-month preventive suspension was without pay.

The complainants are officers and members of NIA Employees Association of the Philippines, the NIA Concerned Employees, and the agency’s lawyers.

The complaint alleged that Antiporda humiliated and berated NIA employees; prohibited managers of NIA’s central office from traveling, “which is counterproductive to their work”; and reassigned and transferred some personnel “without valid grounds.”

He was also accused of placing some employees on floating status; allegedly harassing NIA corporate board secretary Michelle Raymundo by placing a security guard and a closed-circuit television camera at the door of her office and locking her office then turning off electricity at 5 p.m.; and “falsely accusing” NIA legal services chief Lloyd Allain Cudal of corruption and asking Cudal and other legal services members to retire or resign, or face charges.

Antiporda was also alleged to have threatened employees with nonrenewal of their appointments “if they do not side with him or do not act in consonance with his policies.”

Dolomite beach defender

He allegedly made “bootlicking” as a basis for promotion, used flag ceremonies as an “avenue for his bullying and fake news” and maligned employees through the media.

Antiporda, 52, is a former undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and one of the staunchest proponents and defenders of the much-criticized P389-million Manila Bay dolomite beach project.

He was a former journalist who had served as president of the National Press Club.ADVERTISEMENT

He was appointed by former President Rodrigo Duterte as NIA senior deputy administrator in February, then designated by President Marcos as acting administrator in July.

‘Chilling effect’

The complaint also alleged that he was “misleading” the President in saying that the NIA would irrigate all farmlands through public-private partnership “when irrigation is the mandate of the government and not a business venture which is enticing to the private sector.”

The complaint also included his alleged threats not to renew the appointments of some employees of NIA’s General Services Division who installed and repaired the air-conditioning in his residence “but they were not able to finish the job at once.”

“These acts of Respondent Antiporda, according to the complainants, allegedly created a chilling effect on NIA employees,” the Ombudsman said.

After “careful evaluation” of the complaint’s records, the Ombudsman said it found that his guilt was “strong” for committing grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and oppression, exposing him to possible removal from office.”

“Further, in order to secure the documents and to prevent possible harassment of witnesses and considering further that Respondent Antiporda’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him, he is, for the duration of this investigation, hereby placed under preventive suspension without pay…,” according to the Ombudsman’s order.

A copy of the order was sent to the President as the concurrent agriculture secretary.

‘So be it’

Antiporda maintained his innocence and made counterallegations against Cudal and Raymundo, who are the named complainants in the Ombudsman’s order.

“If this is the price to pay for my drive against corruption, then so be it. These are petty allegations against me, compared to hundreds of millions [of pesos] that we are running after,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Antiporda was referring to the administrative and criminal charges he filed against Cudal and NIA lawyer Mary Annabelle Domingo after the NIA lost a case early this year which resulted in the agency paying P205 million in damages to a construction company.

Antiporda said they lost the case against Green Asia Construction & Development Corp. “on a technicality and not by merit” and accused Cudal and Domingo of committing gross inexcusable negligence, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, and gross ignorance of the law.

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