Supreme Court clears PNOC, other execs

By Iris C. Gonzales, The Philippine Star

Posted at Dec 03 2014 07:21 AM | Updated as of Dec 03 2014 03:21 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court has upheld a ruling by the Office of the Ombudsman clearing PNOC president and CEO Antonio Cailao and top executives of the PNOC Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC) of graft and plunder charges.

In a resolution dated Aug. 18, 2014 but made public only recently,the High Court dismissed charges filed against Cailao and other top executives of PNOC-EC as baseless and without merit.

PNOC or the Philippine National Oil Co. is the state-owned oil company while PNOC-EC is its exploration arm.

Crismel Verano, a former director of PNOC-EC filed the complaint against Cailao and PNOC-EC executives before the Ombudsman. In his complaint, he claimed that Cailao, in conspiracy with PNOC-EC executives and some private parties, violated government’s procurement act for not conducting public bidding on a 2009 importation of 65,000 metric tons of Indonesian coal.

Verano also charged them for more than P123 million in alleged losses from said importation.

However, in March 2014. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales dismissed,for lack of basis, the plunder and graft charges.

Verano then elevated the case to the Supreme Court, citing grave abuse of discretion by the Ombudsman.

In its Aug. 18 resolution. the High Court dismissed Verano’s petition as “baseless and without merit.”

The coal was originally intended for the National Power Corp.’s (Napocor) Pagbilao Power Plant in Quezon but the latter refused to accept delivery pending negotiations for a trial burn, according to PNOC-EC.

Thus, PNOC-EC incurred additional costs totaling P123.7 million for the diversion, transfer and unloading of the shipment to the Asian Terminals warehouse in Batangas.

Data from PNOC-EC showed that all transactions and delivery charges were fully documented and covered by official receipts.

Later, PNOC EC successfully sold the same coal stock to Top Coal Trading Corp. for the Sual Coal Fired Thermal Plant in Pangasinan, not at a loss as alleged by Verano, but with a profit of P2.7 million.

This is according to a final report of PNOC-EC’s Internal Audit Department and verified by the Commission on Audit to the Ombudsman.

In clearing Cailao and others of alleged violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act, the Ombudsman relied on the opinion of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, which said that coal trading is PNOC-EC’s regular and main business.

“The coal purchased by PNOC-EC is not intended for PNOC-EC’s consumption but for re-sale to other parties. Thus, the buying and selling of coal is not subject to the requirements of procurement under RA 9184, and does not need to undergo the process of bidding,” it said.

As to the allegation of plunder, the Ombudsman said that Verano failed to show what specific acts committed by Cailao and the PNOC-EC executives constituted plunder under RA 7080.

“In fine, there is no showing that public respondents committed plunder and/or violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, hence they may not be faulted criminally. Neither may they, under the same facts and circumstances, be faulted administratively,” Ombudsman Carpio-Morales said in her March 11, 2014 joint resolution.

Cailao, a 30-year international multi-awarded banker and first Asian recipient of Citibank’s prestigious Chairman’s Club Award before joining PNOC as president and CEO in 2007, welcomed the twin rulings.

“I never doubted I will be cleared of these malicious accusations against me,” he said.

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