Former Iloilo lawmaker pleads not guilty in ‘ghost’ phones case
Former Iloilo Rep. Judy Syjuco pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in her malversation through falsification and graft charges over the alleged ghost purchase of 1,582 units of Nokia 1100 cellphones in 2004.
Syjuco attended her arraignment at the Sandiganbayan Third Division accompanied by her husband, Augusto Syjuco, former chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
“Not guilty,”” Syjuco told the court after her charges were read out to her.
The court set the preliminary conferences throughout the month of June and scheduled the pre-trial on Aug. 1.
Syjuco was arraigned pending her motion to suspend proceedings following the Sandiganbayan Third Division’s finding of probable cause to try her for the criminal charges.
The former lawmaker said her cases should be suspended too after the Sandiganbayan ordered the Ombudsman in a March 1 resolution to conduct its preliminary investigation on co-accused Jonathan Ng, owner of West Island Beverages Distributor (West Island) and the alleged favored supplier of the ghost cellphones.
Syjuco said her trial should be suspended too, especially because Ng’s participation in the alleged crime is vital in the charges against her.
Syjuco was accused of causing undue injury to the government in procuring the ghost cellphones without public bidding and of malversing public funds. On the other hand, NG was accused of receiving P5,964,859.09 as payment despite the ghost deliveries of the said cellphones.
Syjuco said that, if the Ombudsman could find no probable cause against Ng, his “absolution… fatally undermines the Informations” against her too.
“Consequently, the outcome of the preliminary investigation concerning accused Ng can affect the charges against accused Syjuco,” Syjuco’s lawyers said. “If the Office of the Ombudsman determines that there is no probable cause to hold Ng liable… then the informations against Syjuco can no longer stand.”
Syjuco said it was only a “matter of logic” that the court proceedings be suspended pending the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation on Ng.
In a Feb. 27 resolution, the Third Division said it found probable cause to try Syjuco and the following officials:
- Domingo Reyes Jr., chairman of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)
- Elmer Soneja, vice chairman of the BAC
- BAC members Director Rebecca Cacatian, Director Ildefonso Patdu, Jr., Legal Officer Geronimo Quintos and Director Venancio Santidad, DOTC Inspector Marcelo Desiderio, Jr., DOTC Technical Inspector Danilo Dela Rosa, storekeeper Antonio Cruz, and Ng
“The Court finds substantial basis to support the finding of probable cause in these cases and the consequent issuance of warrants of arrest against the accused-movants and their co-accused and to hold them for trial,” the court said.
The Sandiganbayan said the records in the case showed that the accused are probably guilty of the crime.
According to records, Syjuco wrote in 2004 to the late Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza to procure directly with West Island 1,582 units of Nokia 1100 phone kits at P3,950 per unit amounting to a total of P6,248,900.
But the Ombudsman found that there was no delivery of the said phone kits, the court noted.
“Based on the above-mentioned circumstances appearing in the record of these cases, the Court finds that the accused- movants are probably guilty of the crimes charged; hence,they must be arrested and brought to trial,” the court said.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in 2015 approved the filing of malversation and graft charges against the officials for the 2004 ghost deliveries of cellular phones.
She said the respondents released the funds to Ng even though West Island was a mere distributor of Smart Value Credits and therefore not an authorized supplier of cellular phones.
The officials also resorted to direct contracting even when there was no necessity for it, the Ombudsman said, noting that the procurement law requires public bidding as the rule and alternative modes may only be resorted in exceptional cases.
The Ombudsman also noted that Ng is president of Nation Bank Inc. where respondent Syjuco’s sons and Flame Property Holdings are stockholders. Respondent and her husband former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco are stockholders of Flame Property Holdings.
Ombudsman Morales said that “the confluence of facts and evidence will show that respondents conspired with each other through seemingly separate but collaborative acts to defraud the government of P6,248,900.”
The criminal charges against Transportation Secretary Mendoza were dismissed by the Ombudsman due to his death. /atm
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