SC affirms Sandiganbayan decision on Jun Lozada, brother’s graft conviction
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s decision on the conviction of whistleblower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. and his brother Orlando for graft over an anomalous land deal when the former was president and chief executive officer of the Philippine Forest Corp. (PFC).
In a decision dated July 28, 2021 but made public on the SC’s website only last March 23, 2022, the High Court denied the petition for review on certiorari on the Sandiganbayan’s decision.
“The Sandiganbayan Joint Decision… is affirmed with modification in that accused-appellants Rodolfo Noel I. Lozada, Jr. and Jose Orlando I. Lozada are declared guilty under Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 and are sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six years and one month, as minimum, to 10 years and one day, as maximum,” the court said in its ruling.
In August 2016, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division found Jun Lozada guilty of one count of graft for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for causing undue injury to government over an anomalous land deal when he was head of the state-owned Philippine Forest Corp. (PFC) in 2007 and 2008.
He was charged with graft for unlawfully awarding the lease contract of 6.599 hectares of public land under the PFC’s Lupang Hinirang Program to his brother Orlando, foregoing the regular application process and giving unwarranted benefit to his brother to the prejudice of the government.
The court also found Orlando guilty. They were sentenced to suffer six to 10 years imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from public office.
The Lupang Hinirang Program is a leasehold rights program of the PFC to grant leasehold rights over idle public lands to qualified applicants after undergoing an application process.
The petitioners, however, claimed that the Sandiganbayan violated their right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations against them and the right to fair trial, among other concerns.
But in its decision, the SC ruled that the petition for review on certiorari is “unmeritorious,” noting that the elements of graft are present in the case.
“In establishing preference, it is not necessary to show that Orlando was preferred or chosen over a specific individual. The fact that Orlando was granted a notice of award, even if he did not go through the required procedure, is sufficient to establish that there was preference in his favor,” the court said.
“We are not persuaded by Rodolfo’s insistence that he did not give unwarranted benefit to Orlando since no lease agreement and tenurial instrument were executed in his favor and that, if at all, the issuance of a notice of award in Orlando’s favor merely gave him a “preferential right” which was merely an inchoate right,” it added.
The court likewise agreed with the Sandiganbayan that the “petitioners conspired with each other, so that the lease of idle public land would be awarded to Orlando.”
According to the SC, he was authorized to sign all documents, agreements, and contracts relating to the award of leasehold rights as the then president of PFC.
The court noted that without his approval, Orlando would not have been included in the list of bidders and issued a notice of award. Meanwhile, the issuance of the notice of award would not have been consummated without Orlando’s consent and acceptance.
“Thus, taking together the actions of Rodolfo and Orlando, the element of conspiracy is established,” the court stressed.
“Lastly, the petitioners’ constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations against them was not violated, despite the alleged variance between the award of leasehold rights, as charged in the Information, and the notice of award, as proven by the prosecution,” the court added.
Jun Lozada was the star witness in the National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE case, and testified in the graft trial of former First Gentleman Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin who allegedly used their influence to lobby for the broadband deal with China.
Abalos and Arroyo have been acquitted from graft over the issue.
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