Judge on leave; court order on Globe Asiatique housing scam stalled
SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga—The implementation of a Court of Appeals order quashing the charges of syndicated estafa against a Globe Asiatique (GA) officer, Cristina Sagun, and recalling the arrest warrant against her has been delayed because the judge handling the case has yet to report for work.
The court order could save fugitive housing developer and GA president Delfin Lee and three others from prison as they would be allowed to post bail if the charges are reduced to simple estafa.
Judge Maria Amifaith Fider-Reyes of the Pampanga Regional Trial Court Branch 42, who is supposed to implement the appellate court’s Feb. 11 resolution, is on a five-day training course outside the province starting Feb. 18 and will not be back until Feb. 25.
It was Reyes who in May 2012 found probable cause to indict Sagun, the GA documentation chief, for syndicated estafa together with Lee, the latter’s son Dexter, GA accountant Cristina Salagan and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig Fund) lawyer Alex Alvarez.
They were accused of using fake and ghost Pag-Ibig Fund members to avail of P7 billion in housing loans for GA’s Xevera projects in Bacolor and Mabalacat towns in Pampanga from 2008 to 2011.
President Aquino raised the reward for the arrest of Lee, who remains at large, to P2 million.
No probable cause
According to Lee’s lawyer, Willie Rivera, only a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court can stop Reyes from complying with the appellate court’s order. “It should be immediately implemented,” Rivera said.
With only four accused left, there is no more legal basis for syndicated estafa, he pointed out. The law requires five or more persons colluding to commit the crime of syndicated estafa.
“[There] is simply no probable cause to indict [Sagun] of the crime of syndicated estafa, nor is there sufficient evidence to prove her knowledge and/or participation in the alleged fraudulent acts of Globe Asiatique and its officers,” Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan wrote in the Feb. 11 resolution upholding her Oct. 5, 2012, resolution.
Sagun, she said, was “only guilty of not exercising her functions diligently and in a prudent manner.”
But the Department of Justice said it would pursue the syndicated estafa case and take the case to the Supreme Court.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) has been harping on the Pag-Ibig Fund controversy, using it to attack Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, a former Pag-Ibig Fund president and chief executive officer who is now the Team PNoy spokesperson.
Being in LP a burden
Quimbo said his membership in the ruling Liberal Party did not give him immunity from any suit that may arise from the alleged scam.
“Membership in the LP, unlike other parties, serves as a burden to conduct oneself beyond reproach and follow the example of [President Aquino],” he said.
“From the beginning, I have always been strong in my condemnation of the fraud that Delfin Lee brought on the Pag-Ibig Fund and its members,” Quimbo said.
He claimed that the reported irregularities occurred after he was replaced as Pag-Ibig president and CEO in March 2009.—Tonette Orejas