Sandigan suspends DBM undersecretary, 9 others for pork graft
MANILA, Philippines–The Sandiganbayan on Tuesday ordered the suspension for 90 days of Budget Undersecretary for Operations Mario Relampagos and nine other budget officials and state corporation executives who have been charged with multiple counts of graft in connection with the pork barrel scam.
The preventive suspension was mandatory for anyone charged with graft, said the antigraft court’s Third Division, which is also handling the plunder and graft cases against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and their aides.
Charged with Relampagos in the Third Division were Budget and Management Specialist Chief Rosario Nuñez and administrative assistants Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM); National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC) President Gondelina Amata, Directors Emmanuel Sevidal and Chita Jalandoni, and project development officers Sofia Cruz and Gregoria Buenaventura; and Technology Resource Center (TRC) Chief Accountant Marivic Jover.
They, however, have posted bail unlike the 91-year-old Enrile and the other lead accused who were denied bail since plunder is a nonbailable crime.
Relampagos and his coaccused in the DBM had opposed the prosecution’s move to have them suspended, arguing that the evidence against them did not indicate “the likelihood of eventual guilt or liability.”
The budget official also insisted that he could not influence or interfere with the investigation or the prosecution.
But the Sandiganbayan said that even the Supreme Court upheld the decision that the preventive suspension of public officials charged with violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act is mandatory.
The antigraft court added that it did not have the authority to decide whether a preventive suspension can prevent the accused from using his office to intimidate witnesses, or whether to shorten the suspension period.
“Once the information is found to be sufficient in form and substance, then the court must issue the order of suspension as a matter of course. There are no ifs and buts about it,” said the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division in a unanimous resolution penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.
“This is because a preventive suspension is not a penalty. It is not imposed as a result of judicial proceedings,” it said.
The suspension order was also signed by Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Alex Quiroz.
If eventually acquitted, however, those suspended will be paid the salaries and benefits they lost during their absence from work.
Relampagos and the DBM staff members were implicated by Napoles’ aide-turned-whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
Luy said Nuñez, Bare and Paule were his contacts in the DBM while Relampagos signed the budget release orders that supposedly fast-tracked the release of the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to government-owned agencies, which, in turn, diverted the funds to bogus nongovernment organizations purportedly set up by Napoles.
Enrile and Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, as well as their legislative aides, Napoles and her aides, were accused of pocketing hundreds of millions of pesos in kickbacks through ghost projects funded by the PDAF.
During their arraignment in November last year, Relampagos and the other DBM officials refused to enter a plea so the court entered a not guilty plea for them.
The other suspended officials pleaded not guilty during their arraignment in September.
In another order, the Third Division directed Makati Medical Center to submit Enrile’s latest medical bulletin within five days. On March 6, the senator was transferred from Philippine National Police General Hospital to Makati Medical Center due to pneumonia.
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