MANILA - The Sandiganbayan 4th Division has dropped all the charges filed against Senator Sherwin Gatchalian over the Local Water Utilities Administration's (LWUA) allegedly anomalous purchase of a thrift-bank partially-owned by the Gatchalian family.
This includes a graft, malversation and violation of the Manual for Regulation of the Bank (MROB) cases.
Meanwhile, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay was also cleared from a malversation case, but the Sandiganbayan retained his graft and violation of the MROB cases.
The decision came after Pichay, Gatchalian and the other accused filed separate motions for reconsideration.
In the resolution dismissing the malversation case, the Sandiganbayan said Pichay and other LWUA board members are not accountable officers and cannot be charged with malversation.
"It is not the duty of LWUA Board of Trustees to collect, hold or keep publicly-owned money or property. LWUA Board of Trustees' task is limited to policy-making only," the Sandiganbayan said.
With the absence of an accountable officer, the Sandiganbayan deemed the malversation case cannot be pursued.
"The absence of at least one accountable officer who is charged in conspiracy with all other accused in the three cases of malversation is fatal. Its necessary effect leads to the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause in the three cases of alleged malversation," the Sandiganbayan resolution read.
This was also the basis for dismissing the violation of MROB cases of all accused, except for Pichay, Wilfredo Feleo Jr. and Enrique Montilla.
Sandiganbayan said Pichay, as Chair of Board of Directors of ESBI, should know, or was expected to know that the approval of Monetary Board was not secured.
Meanwhile, only remaining graft cases now are filed against Pichay, Feleo,Jr., Yolanda dela Cruz, Arthur Ponsaran, Geronimo Velasco,Jr., Peter Salud, Rogelio Garcia, Lamberto Mercado, Jr., Evelyn dela Rosa, Joaquin Obieta, George Sia Cua, Gregorio Ipong, Wilfred Billena, Edita Bueno, Generoso Tulagan and Elvira Ting.
The Sandiganbayan also found probable cause on the graft case against other Gatchalian family members: Rep.. Weslie, Kenneth, and their parents, William and Dee Hua. Their malversation and violation of MROB cases were also dismissed.
In a statement, Senator Gatchalian said he felt vindicated with the dismissal of the cases. He learned about the Sandiganbayan resolution while in Beijing, China for President Rodrigo Duterte's state visit.
"Throughout this entire ordeal I have held my head up high, confident that these baseless accusations against me would not stick. Today, my honor as a man and my integrity as a public servant have been vindicated by the dismissal of these groundless charges before the honorable Sandiganbayan," Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian also questioned the Ombudsman's "aggressive pursuit of such a weak case." He pointed out that he had never been involved in the management or day-to-day operations of ESBI.
He said his only involvement in ESBI at the time of its sale to LWUA in 2009 was his ownership of 14 shares of stock, representing .00001886062 percent of the total shareholdings of the company, valued at approximately P2,500.
"Thankfully, the fairness and objectivity of the courts prevailed to clear my name. As always, I put my full faith and trust in the judiciary. I am hopeful that justice will also prevail to absolve the others involved in this case," Gatchalian said.