Witnesses point to JV Ejercito in firearms deal graft trial
State prosecutors on Monday presented witnesses to pin down Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito during the second day of his graft trial for the anomalous purchase of firearms using calamity funds when he was San Juan mayor.
At the graft trial before the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division, Assistant Special Prosecutor Peter Jedd Boco called to the witness stand Eduvinia Mabulac, the head of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) Secretariat; Sheila Anne Dalumpienes, department manager of the Land Bank San Juan branch; and Amita Legaspi, an online reporter.
The graft charges stemmed from the procurement of high-powered rifles worth P2.1 million using the city’s calamity funds even though the city was not under a state of calamity when Ejercito was San Juan mayor in 2008.
In the graft information, the Ombudsman prosecutors said the purchase of the firearms was done without public bidding and post-qualification, and that the winning bidder HK Tactical Defense System submitted bid documents bearing dates earlier than the publication of invitation to bid, which showed that there was unwarranted benefit given to the supplier.
The firearms purchased included three units of model K2 cal. 5.56mm sub-machine guns and 17 units of Daewoo model K1 cal. 5.56 mm sub-machine guns.
Prosecutor Boco said witness Mabulac would prove that the winning bidder HK Tactical Defense System already knew the particulars of the contract before the opening of bids for the purchase of firearms.
In her testimony, Mabulac said she was the one who drafted the invitation to apply for eligibility and to bid (IAETB) which was published in a newspaper, uploaded on PhilGEPS website, and posted in conspicuous places before the opening of bids.
The prosecutor said the winning bidder HK Tactical Defense System already knew of the project reference number as early as March 2008, or a month before the eligibility checking conducted on April 26 to 30, 2008, bolstering the allegation that the San Juan city government gave undue preference to the winning bidder.
But the witness said she was not aware how the winning bidder came to know the project reference number, adding that the bid documents furnished to the interested bidders were all blank.
“Would you know why HK Tactical Defense System as the lone bidder already knows the project reference number?” Boco said.
“When we issue the bid documents, they are all blank forms. Nothing is written,” Mabulac said.
In her judicial affidavit admitted by the court as her direct testimony, Mabulac also testified that the eligibility requirements submitted by HK Tactical Defense System bore the date March 2008, or a month before the scheduled eligibility checking.
Dalumpienes, the second witness, testified that San Juan city has a current and savings account in the Land Bank branch containing the general fund of the city government for the general transactions of the local government unit.
She said that a check dated Aug. 11, 2008 worth P1.987 million was debited from the LGU San Juan Current Account, and that the check was made payable to the bidder HK Tactical Defense System Inc.
Boco said Dalumpienes’ testimony would prove that the check paid to HK Tactical Defense System was consummated from the calamity fund.
“As early as Aug. 2008, the transaction was consummated from the city of San Juan… A check of P1.987 million was payable to HK Tactical Defense System deduced from the current account (in Land Bank),” Boco said.
Journalist Legaspi testified on the accuracy and fairness of her article posted on GMA News Online which reported that Ejercito admitted to using the calamity funds for the firearms purchase.
Prosecutor Boco said Legaspi’s testimony would prove that the calamity funds were indeed used for the purchase of high-powered firearms.
In his cross examination, defense lawyer Matthew Ong grilled the reporter if she conducted enough research about a joint circular between the Departments of Budget and Management and the Interior and Local Government that allows the use of calamity funds for man-made disasters including criminal activities of terrorists and insurgents, as well as about the absence of a notice of disallowance from the Commission on Audit (COA).
In its graft indictment, the Ombudsman said this circular did not include high-powered firearms as among the items needed for disaster relief and mitigation.
Ong also grilled the reporter on whether or not she inserted her views and biases in the article when she paraphrased Ejercito’s statement admitting the use of calamity funds, to which Legaspi said she only wrote about Ejercito’s reaction to the Ombudsman’s indictment and nothing else.
“So you did not report the whole story… you did not bother to research?” Ong asked.
“My duty is with Sen. Ejercito because I’m covering the Senate. We have another reporter for that… It’s not part of my job,” Legaspi said.
She said she only paraphrased the statement of Ejercito who in the article was quoted as saying that the city government urgently needed firearms due to heightened criminality after the long firearms were recalled and sent to the provinces.
“That time, it was an urgent need. Ito yung panahon na marami ang holdapan, kidnap for ransom, pati yung restaurants pinapasok… naging very bold, naging very confident ang mga kriminal (That was the time when robbery, kidnap for ransom was rampant; even restaurants were being broken into… the criminals became very bold, very confident),” Ejercito was quoted as saying in Legaspi’s report.
“Aaminin natin na totoo dahil sa urgency, sinabi ko kung anumang pondo ang pwedeng gamitin, gamitin na lang. Kaya lang in the process, the COA called our attention, sinabihan kami na hindi namin pwedeng i-charge ang purchase ng firearms sa calamity fund (Let’s admit it’s true because of the urgency, I said that any fund that can be used, use it. However, in the process, the COA called our attention, they told us that we can’t charge the purchase of the firearms using the calamity fund),” Ejercito said in the report.
Ong asked if the reporter was aware that the municipal government, when the Commission on Audit called its attention about the use of calamity funds, passed a supplemental budget to include a budgetary item for the purchase of the firearms.
The supplementary budget in effect returned the payment given to HK Defense Tactical System, thus making the calamity fund intact, Ong said.
Legaspi said she was not aware if the funds were used or not but that she only wrote about Ejercito’s reaction to the Ombudsman’s graft indictment against him.
“What I can say is he admitted that they used the fund but they returned it. But I can’t say if they did not use it,” Legaspi said.
“I just quoted Sen. Ejercito. They are paraphrased statements. These are not my statements,” she added.
Ejercito is facing a separate technical malversation charge before the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division in connection with the alleged illegal use of the calamity funds for firearms. JE/rga
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