Sandiganbayan asked to affirm 83 graft cases vs Petron exec

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2011 10:35 PM | Updated as of Mar 28 2011 06:35 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Prosecutors have asked the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division to affirm the validity of 83 counts of graft filed against former Department of Finance officials and several defendants, including Petron Corp. general manager Celso Legarda.

In their 10-page opposition paper dated March 23, 2011, Prosecution Bureau IX acting director Ireneo Paldeng and assistant special prosecutors Jacinto dela Cruz Jr., Leoveminda Villanueva and Rochelle Manuel sought denial of Legarda's motion filed March 1, 2011 praying for the dismissal of the charges.

Legarda claimed the Supreme Court's (SC) ruling in G.R. No. 180385 issued on July 28, 2010 had cleared Petron Corp. of any liability for using tax credit certificates transferred to it by textile firm Diamond Knitting Corp (DKC).

The same SC ruling, he said, rendered the graft cases against him readily dismissible for lack of merit and based on the principle of res judicata, which bars trial in cases that have resolved with finality.

The highest public official indicted in the cases was former Finance Undersecretary Antonio Belicena, who was also executive director of the Department of Finance - One-Stop Shop Inter-Agency Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center (Center), the agency that issued 42 fraudulent tax credit certificates to DKC between 1994 and 1997 worth over P100 million.

Also among those charged were Center deputy director Uldarico Andutan Jr. and couple Faustino and Gloria Chingkoe, who were identified as owners of DKC.

Legarda said the Supreme Court ruled that Petron Corp acquired the TCCs in good faith from DKC and cannot be held liable as it performed its obligations according to the deeds of assignment.

The prosecution, however, argued that the SC ruling has no bearing on the criminal cases because it simply ruled upon the question of Petron's excise tax deficiencies in relation to the oil firm's use of the fraudulent TCCs.

"(T)he issues passed upon by the Honorable Supreme Court in said reference case are different from the issues stated in the Pre-Trial order of the cases before the Sandiganbayan. For res judicata to apply, there must be identity of parties and identity of issues," it pointed out.

In addition, the prosecution said the issue of criminal conspiracy among the accused to inflict undue injury to the government was not even addressed by the Supreme Court ruling pertaining to the tax case.

"The informations in the cases at bar allege that there was conspiracy among the accused. The determination of whether the accused conspired in committing the offense charged can be best passed upon after a full-blown trial on the merits," it stressed.