MANILA - The Sandiganbayan has dismissed eight graft charges against Department of Budget and Management Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and his subordinates in connection with the pork barrel scam for lack of probable cause.
Relampagos and his subordinates Marilou Dialino Bare, Lalaine Narag Paule, and Rosario Salamida Nunez were accused of facilitating the Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) for the projects of co-accused Senator Bong Revilla.
In a resolution, the Sandiganbayan First Division said it found no probable cause to charge Relampagos and his subordinates, as the seven SAROs which were mentioned in the charges were not signed or initiated by any of the accused, but by former Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya.
In the same resolution, the Sandiganbayan granted the prosecution panel's motion to amend the charge sheet, particularly in changing the term "Sub-Allotment Release Order (SubARO)" to SARO.
"Therefore, even with the admission of the amended information which now incorporates now the term SARO instead of SubARO. The court cannot find any probable cause against Relampagos, et al, because of the obvious fact that they had no participation in the issuance of the 7 SAROs signed by then DBM Secretary Andaya," the resolution read.
Although the prosecution said that these are merely typographical errors, the accused pointed out that the two are entirely different documents issued by different offices.
A SARO is prepared by the DBM, while a Sub-ARO is prepared by government line agencies.
The Sandiganbayan granted the motion, saying that although the amendment is substantial in nature, it is not seen to affect the defense of Relampagos and others.
The court noted that the amendment could still be admitted as the accused have yet to enter their plea in court.
The Sandiganbayan, meanwhile, deferred the arraignment of Relampagos, Bare, Paule and Nunez on the eight other remaining counts of graft as the prosecution is ordered by the court to present additional evidence within five days to establish the existence of probable cause against them.
The anti-graft court said the Ombudsman indicted the accused because of whistleblower Benhur Luy's statements in his affidavit that he knows that the office of Relampagos processes SAROs and that he used to follow-up with Bare, Paule, and Nunez.
"As to the alleged 'kickbacks' received by Relampagos, et al., a second look at the evidence on record also does not show anything to establish such allegation. On the contrary, Benhur Luy's statement before the Senate Hearings establishes that he did not know whether anybody at the DBM received anything,'' the resolution read.
''Thus the prosecution needs to submit additional evidence on these matters notwithstanding the Court's inclination to admit the proposed amendment covering the change of the term Sub-ARO to SARO," the resolution read.
The court added that the arraignment on these cases, set on September 4, have been deferred.