SC clears ex-Agri chief Arthur Yap in pork barrel case

SC clears ex-Agrichief Arthur Yap in pork barrel case

Former Agriculture Sec. Arthur Yap —Leo Udtohan/Inquirer Visayas

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has cleared former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap of graft and malversation charges stemming from the alleged misuse of congressional pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009.

In a 29-page decision promulgated on April 15 but made public on May 16, the Supreme Court’s Third Division granted Yap’s petition for certiorari—or a petition to correct a lower court’s decision—as it dismissed four criminal cases filed against him before Sandiganbayan’s Third Division.

In 2017, Yap, who headed the Department of Agriculture (DA) during the Arroyo administration, was then charged with graft on two counts, malversation of public funds and malversation through falsification.

READ: Arroyo’s ex-Agriculture chief Yap, other execs to undergo probe over PDAF misuse

This was for signing a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the DA and National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), as well as an addendum releasing P8 million from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of then Misamis Occidental Rep. Marina Clarete to Kabuhayan at Kalusugang Alay sa Masa Foundation (KKAMFI).

READ: Former Bohol gov Arthur Yap faces charges over P57-M senior health kit deal

Grave abuse

KKAMFI, a nongovernmental organization, allegedly failed to implement the project funded by Clarete’s PDAF. It was also said to be unaccredited and unqualified for the project despite being endorsed by the lawmaker.

The high court ruled that the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled that the information filed against Yap had enough basis to indict him.

“The absence of crucial averments in the information relating to Yap’s purported malversation of public funds is perceivable even by the naked eye; it was not even established how he could be considered an accountable officer who exercised effective control over the public funds or property suspected to have been appropriated or misappropriated,” the Supreme Court said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao.

The tribunal upheld Yap’s argument that his act of signing the MOA between the DA and Nabcor did not indicate partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence, or that it caused undue injury to the government or gave unwarranted benefits and advantage to his coaccused, namely Clarete and some Nabcor officers.

Valid issuance

The Supreme Court also gave weight to the position taken by the Office of the Solicitor General that the MOA was executed based on a valid issuance by then Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr.

The high tribunal said Yap had “no discretion to deny” Clarete’s request to transfer the PDAF allocation as it was covered by the General Appropriations Act that set the national budget.

The Supreme Court said that the Sandiganbayan acted with grave abuse of discretion when it ruled that there was no inordinate delay in the Ombudsman’s termination of its preliminary investigation of Yap’s case, which took three years and five days.