Aurora governor suspended for 90 days by Sandiganbayan
MANILA, Philippines – Aurora province Governor Gerardo Noveras has been suspended by the Sandiganbayan for 90 days while investigation of graft charges against him are ongoing.
The order from the Sixth Division dated November 28 said that the claims made by Noveras and Provincial budget officer Paz Torregosa on why they should not be suspended lacked merit, primarily because the Informations filed against them are valid.
“To reiterate, accused Noveras and Torregosa were both charged under a valid Information […] Record also shows that accused Noveras is still the incumbent governor of the Province of Aurora,” the court’s decision penned by Associate Justice Kevin Narce Vivero said.
“While accused Torregosa claims that she is no longer the Provincial Legal Officer and a Member of the Bids and Awards Committee of the Provincial Government of Aurora, she, however, failed: to state and present necessary proof that she is no longer an incumbent public official,” it added.
Noveras, Torregosa, and other Aurora provincial government officials are facing graft charges over an alleged rigging of bidding procedures in 2014, for two projects on the repair of the Casiguran-Dilasag Provincial Road and the Dimalang Bridge.
The projects were confirmed to be complete just three days after the notices to proceed was released, leading then-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to claim that the contracts were already awarded to RMCR Construction even before the procurement process commenced.
Noveras said in his comment on the order that he should not be suspended as his role in the allegedly anomalous projects was only as the head of the procuring entity, which means he just approved the contract to the said construction firm.
He also insisted that he could not tamper with any evidence, as the documents that the prosecution would supposedly need are already available.
However, the court noted that they cannot interpret whether or not there was a chance for an official to frustrate an investigation, as their presumption is that accused officials may still commit other acts of malfeasance — in accordance with Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“The rationale behind this is the firmly entrenched doctrine that preventive suspension under Section 13 of R.A. 3019 is mandatory,” the court said.
“As a necessary corollary of this pronouncement, accused Noveras should still be preventively suspended even if he was reelected to his position as Provincial Governor,” it added.
With the order, a copy of the resolution has been forwarded to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for implementation. The DILG Secretary on the other hand was directed to inform the court of its action 15 days after they receive the document.
Noveras’s supension would automatically be lifted after the 90 day period, Sandiganbayan said.
Edited by JE
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