Echiverri vs Ombudsman, 4-0; 53 more graft cases to go
The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Caloocan City Mayor Enrico “Recom” Echiverri of graft charges in connection with a P1.78-million walkway and drainage project that was implemented supposedly without prior approval from the city council.
The decision marked Echiverri’s fourth victory against complaints filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman, which has yet to score a conviction out of the 57 cases hurled at the politician.
In a decision dated Dec. 14, the court’s First Division gave weight to the Commission on Audit’s June 25, 2017 ruling that lifted the disallowance on all unauthorized projects totaling P979.06 million.
The pathway and drainage project in Barangay 176 (Bagong Silang) awarded to E.V. & E. Construction and implemented in 2011 was among those covered by the COA decision.
Although the infrastructure projects lacked the Sangguniang Panlungsod’s (SP) prior authorization, the COA said the council passed a March 2012 council ratifying the contracts and curing such defects. “The SP did not disown the disbursement when it had every opportunity to do so,” the commission noted.
For the antigraft court, this “eliminat[ed] the possibility that the accused acted with manifest partiality, gross inexcusable negligence and/or that it resulted in undue injury or actual damage to the city.”
Ombudsman prosecutors argued that the COA decision was administrative in nature and should not affect Echiverri’s criminal cases.
But the Sandiganbayan pointed out that the prosecution’s allegations arose from the Oct. 15, 2013, decision of the COA National Capital Region office to disallow the expenditures.
Since the COA reversed the NCR office’s decision, the court said this should “very well be considered, or at least noted, in the present cases.”
Besides the COA ruling, also cited was the Supreme Court’s Oct. 1 resolution upholding Echiverri’s first-ever acquittal in an April 16 decision handed down by the same Sandiganbayan division.
That case concerned an P8.08-million road and drainage project awarded to a different contractor. But the Sandiganbayan said it was “essentially similar” to the case in the most recent decision.
The SC’s affirmation of its earlier ruling had a “considerable persuasive effect in the disposition” of the most recent case, said the court.
Even without the ratification of the unauthorized projects, the court said the lump-sum budget ordinance funded by loans from the Land Bank of the Philippines in 2010—which did not include specific details of projects to be funded—“could serve as authority” for Echiverri.
The court also noted that the appropriate bidding procedures were followed. It noted that the city “undeniably derived benefits” from the projects even up to this day.
It said even the Ombudsman opted not to press technical malversation charges against Echiverri after it found “no illegal diversion of funds.”
Also acquitted were city accountant Edna Centeno and city budget officer Jesusa Garcia. Centeno and Garcia were also cleared of falsification charges in connection with their certification of the existence of an itemized appropriation.
The decision was penned by Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona, with Associate Justices Efren de la Cruz and Geraldine Faith Econg concurring.
Aside from the April 16 and Dec. 14 acquittals, the same court also threw out on June 20 and July 27 two similar cases on the ground of unreasonable delay in the Ombudsman’s investigation.
This leaves 53 more graft charges pending against Echiverri.