The Sandiganbayan will hold a trial against 14 defendants implicated in the anomalous implementation of infrastructure projects funded by the Palawan government’s share of royalties from the Malampaya gas field.
In five separate, recently-released resolutions, the court’s Second Division denied the motions seeking the dismissal of their graft and falsification cases on jurisdictional grounds.
Three of the defendants who moved for the quashal of their cases were mid-level government employees: senior technical audit specialist Ronelo del Socorro and provincial resident engineers Romeo Llacuna and Bernard Zambales.
The three claimed the Sandiganbayan lost jurisdiction over their cases after provincial engineer Charlie Factor—who racked up 133 out of the 159 charges filed by the Ombudsman—died on March 18 after battling pancreatic cancer.
They argued that in their specific cases, the remaining defendants fell below the Sandiganbayan’s coverage of officials with a salary grade of 27 or higher.
The court said this was incorrect because the criminal proceedings already began when the Ombudsman filed the charges on Feb. 24, weeks before Factor died. It added that it acquired jurisdiction over the three when it granted their motion to reduce bail on March 6.
Factor’s death extinguishes only his criminal liability, but not those of his coaccused, the resolution stated.
Del Socorro and Llacuna were accused of fabricating the CoA inspection report and work accomplishment reports for the San Vicente Airport Development Project. They allegedly stated that the project was 58.36 percent complete during ocular inspection, when it was only 8.8 percent finished.
Meanwhile, Zambales was charged for his role in allegedly certifying the 100-percent completion of a day care center and a school building package in southern Palawan, when they were only 97 percent and 82 percent finished at the time.
The other defendants who were unsuccessful in their attempt to avoid trial composed of various private contractors engaged by the provincial government under former Governor Mario Joel Reyes.
Abelardo Salazar of A.L. Salazar Construction Inc., who faces two criminal cases, argued he could not be charged with graft because the case information failed to state how he “conspired and confederated” with the provincial government officials to misuse the funds.
However, the resolution noted that Section 9, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court only required that allegations in the charge sheet be stated in concise language without necessarily explaining the evidentiary basis.
Meanwhile, Teodorico and Bella Tiotangco of BCT Trading and Construction, the private defendants who face the highest number of criminal charges at 25 each, tried to invoke the alleged inordinate delay in the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation into the case.
Fernando and Rebecca Tiotangco of ANILOS Trading and Construction (three charges each), Lorenzo Leoncio of L.B. Leoncio Trading and Construction (nine), Ulysses Consebido of Seven Digit Construction & Supplies (eight), Dennis Sandil of D.C. Sandil Construction & Realty Development, Inc. (six), Prospero Gabayan Jr. of ICON Trading & Construction (one), Armando Lustre Jr. of AR Lustre Jr. Construction (one), and Jesus Tan of GOLDROCK Construction & Development Corp. (one) also raised the same argument.
But, the court accepted the prosecution’s justification that the sheer number of accused and the voluminous records in the case led to the preliminary investigation stage taking more than four years.
The court also thumbed down Salazar, Gabayan and Lustre’s plea to suspend proceedings while they question their indictment by the Ombudsman before the Supreme Court.
The three cited “judicial courtesy” in seeking the suspension of their cases, but the Sandiganbayan said Section 7, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court provided that petitions for certiorari with the Supreme Court do not interrupt the course of the principal case unless a temporary restraining order is issued.
The Malampaya cases were filed in connection with anomalies allegedly surrounding 209 contracts funded by the royalties received by the provincial government following former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s issuance of Executive Order No. 683 in 2007. The said projects were cornered by 11 contractors.
Prosecutors accused the provincial engineer’s office, as well as two state auditors including Del Socorro, of fabricating accomplishment reports to justify payment for 39 unfinished projects worth P461.37 million.
Reyes himself faces 36 criminal charges for allegedly violating of the Government Procurement Reform Act and entering into disadvantageous contracts that do not provide for the payment of liquidated damages in case of project delays. All in all, the irregularities attended 209 contracts worth P1.53 billion in 2008 and 2009.
The expose of these alleged irregularities supposedly led to the January 2011 slay of environmentalist broadcaster Gerry Ortega, for whose murder Reyes is currently jailed pending trial. JE