MANILA, Philippines?The Sandiganbayan has ordered the suspension of five Public Estate Authority officials and four government auditors involved in the controversial sale of public reclaimed land to the Amari Coastal Development Corp. in 1995.
The Supreme Court declared the P1.8 billion PEA-Amari deal unconstitutional in 2002.
In a resolution dated July 16, the antigraft court?s First Division directed the 90-day suspension of Theron Lacson, PEA deputy general manager; Jaime Millan, assistant general manager; Bernardo Viray, technical services department manager;
Raphael Zorilla, project management officer; Cristina Amposta-Mortel, legal department manager; State auditors Manuela dela Paz and Arturo Layug, supervising technical audit specialist Benilda Mendoza and assistant chief of the technical services audit division Epifanio Pureza.
The prosecution had argued that since the accused had already been arraigned and charged for violation of the antigraft law, their suspension was mandatory.
The court threw out the objections of the accused, citing that the high tribunal has already affirmed the validity of the information against them.
Under the April 1995 PEA-Amari agreement, the government paid P1.8 billion to acquire three islands in the Manila Bay at P1,200 per square meter.
A Senate inquiry later produced testimonies alleging that the company paid P1.7 billion in bribes to seal the Amari deal with PEA and Malacañang, under former President Fidel V. Ramos. The deal was renegotiated during the term of President Joseph Estrada.
In July 2002, the Supreme Court voided the controversial deal, saying the three reclaimed islands could not be sold as it was part of the public domain.
In a motion for reconsideration filed yesterday, Pureza asked the court to reverse its ruling. He said there was no more reason to preventively suspend him as the prosecution had already rested its case.
?The burden of evidence shifts and now rests with the accused. Thus, the fear of the accused using his position to hamper, obstruct or exercise any undue influence on witnesses becomes remote if not totally non-existent,? pleaded Pureza.