Supreme Court clears Floirendo of graft case
DAVAO CITY, Davao del Sur, Philippines — The Supreme Court has reversed the conviction meted out to former Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. by the Sandiganbayan in 2020.
In its ruling on Jan. 23, 2023, a copy of which was only obtained by the Inquirer on April 2, the high tribunal’s Second Division ruled in favor of Floirendo, saying he should not be held liable for having “nominal shareholding” in the banana plantation company that has entered into a contract with a government entity.
The former congressman is the son and namesake of the late founder of Anflo Management and Investment Corp. (Anflocor) and Tagum Agricultural Development Co. Inc. (Tadeco), which renewed in 2003 its joint venture agreement (JVA) with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) for the use of BuCor land as a banana plantation.
Floirendo had sought the reversal of the Aug. 21, 2020, Sandiganbayan ruling that convicted him of graft in a case filed against him by his erstwhile friend, former house speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.
In the Sandiganbayan ruling, Floirendo was sentenced to between six and eight years in prison and was perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
But the high court refused to accept the ruling of the graft court, particularly the view that a member of Congress violated the Constitution just because he had a share in a company that had a contract with a government agency.
“The Constitution must not have envisioned such a myopic view, for members of Congress would be at the mercy of the antigraft law for their nominal shareholdings in just about any corporation in whose favor, the government has actually granted and will in the future grant contracts to, even without doing any act in relation to, nor benefiting from, the same,” the Supreme Court pointed out in its ruling.
Of the five-member division, only Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, its chair, dissented. Other members of the division included Associate Justices Amy Lazaro-Javier, Mario Lopez, Jhosep Lopez and Antonio Kho Jr.
The Sandiganbayan had ruled that while members of the House of Representatives were not prohibited from having a direct or indirect financial interest per se, they were, however, prohibited from having direct or indirect financial interest in any contract with the government during their terms of office.
The graft court said that Floirendo’s mistake was that he failed to divest his shares from the companies owned by his family.
The basis of Alvarez’s complaint was the renewal of the JVA between Tadeco and the BuCor for another 25 years, signed when Floirendo was still a lawmaker. Floirendo owned 75,000 shares in Tadeco and 537,950 shares in Anflocor, which according to the Sandiganbayan, meant that directly or indirectly he had a financial interest in the company.
But the Supreme Court accused the graft court of “hastily” concluding that just because Tadeco and the BuCor entered into the 2003 JVA with the objective of obtaining profits, then automatically, Floirendo had financial interest in the 2003 JVA by simply owning shares in Tadeco and Anflocor.
“For sheer lack of evidence to prove that Floirendo Jr. was financially interested in the 2003 JVA, the Sandiganbayan casually declared that Floirendo Jr. never denied his financial interest in the 2003 JVA. This is unfounded,” the high court ruled.
The Supreme Court also said the prosecution failed to present evidence Floirendo “obtained a monetary gain or benefit” from the 2003 JVA.
It added: “More importantly, the records do not show that Floirendo Jr. used his influence to push for the 2003 JVA. There is also no proof that he used his membership in Congress as a leverage to have the contract executed.”