Seachon-Lanete walks free, guns for reelection as 3rd-time governor
“You’re free,” lawyer Laurence Arroyo told an emotional Rizalina Seachon-Lanete as she walked to the Sandiganbayan courtroom a free woman.
The dismissed Masbate governor arrived at the Sandiganbayan Wednesday afternoon to make a personal appearance after the anti-graft court Fourth Division granted her bail petition from plunder over the pork barrel scam.
But while the anti-graft court also granted the bail petition of accused pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, she could not yet walk free because she had been denied bail in her other plunder cases involving senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Napoles is also serving life sentence at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong after being convicted for the serious illegal detention of whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Upon arriving, Seachon-Lanete stepped out of her vehicle to hug her son, lawyer Jesi Lanete, before heading to the courtroom for final documentation.
Teary-eyed, Seachon-Lanete was all smiles after walking out free from being detained in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig for more than a year since she surrendered in Feb. 2015.
Seachon-Lanete’s son, incumbent Masbate Representative Scott Davies Lanete, also arrived to express his support.
In an interview, Seachon-Lanete expressed her gratitude for being allowed to post bail ahead of the upcoming elections. She is gunning for reelection for a third and final term as Masbate governor.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to Him up there, thank you, of course, to my lawyers, and of course to my fellow Masbateños who never left me, they’re with me all throughout,” Seachon-Lanete said.
“And the victory is not mine, but theirs,” she added.
She refused to comment on the effect of her temporary freedom in her reelection bid, saying that that is already part of strategy.
Her lawyer Arroyo said the legalities of the case is different from the politics surrounding Seachon-Lanete’s reelection bid.
Arroyo said Seachon-Lanete’s name was still included in the ballot even though the Ombudsman dismissed her service and perpetually barred from public office for grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in connection with her pork barrel scam charges.
Arroyo said Seachon-Lanete may still run because her dismissal is still a subject of a motion for reconsideration before the Ombudsman.
Seachon-Lanete’s son Jesi paid the P500,000 bail from plunder and P330,000 bail from 11 counts of graft at the Sandiganbayan cashier for a total bail amount of P830,000.
According to the court decision promulgated Tuesday, the prosecution failed to prove that Seachon-Lanete received from Napoles the threshold P50 million kickbacks to constitute plunder.
The court said the prosecution even admitted that Napoles and Seachon-Lanete never met personally, and that Seachon-Lanete never attended the parties or sponsored Masses nor visited the office of Napoles.
The prosecution had also admitted that Seachon-Lanete and Napoles never met personally to discuss the percentage of kickbacks.
Witness Luy had also said that he handed the kickbacks not to Napoles but to Seachon-Lanete’s chief of staff Jose Sumalpong.
The court also said there were some instances that Seachon-Lanete’s projects with Napoles were not “ghost projects” after all.
“Luy himself claims that accused Lanete once talked to him over the phone, asking that the vests to be delivered in her favorite color orange. This shows that there was indeed a delivery of items,” the court said.
Seachon-Lanete is accused of pocketing P108.405 million allegedly siphoned from her Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) from 2004 to 2010.
Before being granted bail, she was detained at the female dormitory of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.
She was the first lawmaker embroiled in the pork barrel scam to be granted bail by the Sandiganbayan.
In the case of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, he was allowed to post bail by the Supreme Court due to humanitarian reasons not the Sandiganbayan.
The anti-graft court Fifth Division would later also grant bail to another lawmaker detained for plunder, former Apec representative Edgar Valdez, who allegedly pocketed P57.787 million in kickbacks.
In its complaint, the Ombudsman said Seachon-Lanete when she was Masbate representative had misused P112.29 million of PDAF from 2007 to 2009.
Based on whistleblower Benhur Luy’s ledger, Seachon-Lanete from 2004 to 2010 received P108.405 million in kickbacks, of which P73.065 million were siphoned from Seachon-Lanete’s PDAF from 2007 to 2009.
In its indictment, the Ombudsman said “Lanete continuously endorsed the implementation of her PDAF-funded livelihood and agricultural projects to questionable NGOs associated with or controlled by Napoles.”
“(Lañete’s) P112.29 million PDAF was anomalously used for livelihood projects, financial assistance to farmers, farm inputs and farm implements, skills training and distribution of livelihood kits in nail care, wellness, massage and candle- making. Several Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) were entered into between Seachon-Lanete, (Technology Resource Center), National Agribusiness Corp) and the NGO-partners,” the Ombudsman said.
Seachon-Lanete is part of the first batch of lawmakers charged for purportedly pillaging public funds in ghost projects for kickbacks in connivance with Napoles.
Also facing malversation complaints are former Agusan Del Sur. Rep. Rodolfo Plaza, Benguet Rep. Samuel Dangwa and Cagayan De Oro Rep. Constantino Jaraula.
The antigraft court is also hearing plunder cases of Revilla, Estrada and Enrile.
With their bail pleas denied, Revilla and Estrada continue to be detained for plunder at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center. TVJ
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