Antigraft court upholds governor’s conviction
The Sandiganbayan has upheld its decision finding one of President Aquino’s closest friends, Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali Jr., guilty of graft for extending a P2.5-million loan from provincial funds to a ship operator in 1994.
Umali, who is treasurer of the administration Liberal Party (LP) and president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, appealed the verdict handed down by the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division on April 20, which included the penalty of barring him and his coaccused from holding public office again.
The court also denied the appeal of his coaccused, former Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rudolf Valencia and former provincial Board Member Romualdo Bawasanta.
It found the three guilty of graft for granting a P2.5-million loan in January 1994 to engineer Alfredo Atienza to finance the repair, operation and maintenance of his vessel, MV Ace. Umali was then the provincial administrator while Valencia was then governor.
Umali said the loan was meant to provide another transport from Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro province to Batangas City and back, to break the existing shipping monopoly.
But the Sandiganbayan said the loan violated “a fundamental rule that public funds shall be used for public purposes.”
From the start, the provincial treasurer and auditor questioned and objected to the grant of the loan, it noted. “The accused forced through and worked for its completion despite the objections,” it said.
The court sentenced the three officials to jail terms of six years and one month up to 10 years, and told them to return the P2.5 million to the provincial coffers. Their retirement and gratuity benefits are to be forfeited and they will be perpetually disqualified from holding public office, it said.
The decision was unanimously upheld by the Fourth Division chaired by Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, with Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Ma. Cristina Cornejo as members.
Hernandez denied Umali’s motion to have him inhibit from the case for alleged bias during the trial.
The governor has also filed an administrative complaint against Hernandez in the Supreme Court, accusing him of asking P15 million in exchange for an acquittal.
But Hernandez denied any wrongdoing, saying the accused violated a Supreme Court directive when they asked him to inhibit himself after the court already handed down its verdict.
Umali, reached for comment, said he was not surprised by the Sandiganbayan’s verdict.
“I expected that verdict because, first, I asked him (Hernandez) to inhibit (from the case) and, second, I filed an administrative case against him in the [Supreme Court],” he said in a text message.
The governor said he was consulting his lawyers on appealing the case in the Supreme Court. With a report from Madonna Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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