MANILA, Philippines - Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso V. Umali has been ordered suspended for 90 days by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division in relation to a pending graft charge filed against him in 2004 for his participation in the alleged unlawful disbursement of P2.5 million public funds released as a loan to a private individual.
In an 8-page resolution promulgated last January 7, the graft court junked Umali’s objections that the purpose of his suspension – to prevent him from influencing prosecution evidence – is now non-existent because prosecutors have already terminated their presentation of exhibits.
The Sandiganbayan said Umali’s suspension is mandatory under Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
It likewise held that preventing the accused from frustrating the prosecution is only one of the grounds for suspending a public official as the law requires that the defendant also be prevented “from committing further acts of malfeasance while in office.”
“The presumption is that unless the accused is suspended, he may frustrate his prosecution or commit further acts of malfeasance or do both,” the court declared.
The Department of Interior and Local Government was directed to immediately implement the suspension order.
Umali was accused of committing the offense when he was still the provincial administrator.
His co-accused include Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Rodolfo G. Valencia, who was the governor at the time; then-provincial board members Jose Leynes and Jose Enriquez; and former Vice-Governor Pedrito Reyes.
Named private defendant was Alfredo Atienza, owner of passenger vessel MV Ace, who was granted the loan in 1994 for the “repair, operations, and maintenance” of the ship.
The defendant public officials claimed the indictment has no basis since the funds were used for public benefit.
They said the province was hit by destructive flooding in 1994 due to successive typhoons, and Atienza’s ship was needed to ferry medical supplies, relief goods and food stuff for the people of Mindoro.
On September 9, 2008 all the accused were convicted by the graft court after their demurrers to evidence were denied for lack of merit. They were each sentenced to six to 10-year imprisonment with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
The defendants asked for a re-opening of the trial on the ground that they were not aware of the consequences when they agreed to allow their former lawyers to file the demurrer to evidence even without leave of court.
Under the rules, such filing without permission from the court is an implied waiver of the defendants’ right to present their own evidence in trial.
In a resolution dated December 15, 2009, the graft court recalled the conviction verdict and granted the defendants a new opportunity to present evidence saying “they may not have indeed understood the meaning and consequence of the waiver of their right to present evidence.”