Sandiganbayan clears 2 ex-gov't officials tagged in 'pork barrel' scam

Adrian Ayalin , ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2019 05:16 PM

MANILA - The Sandiganbayan has acquitted two former government officials tagged in the alleged misuse of a former lawmaker's Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), among several cases that stemmed from the multibillion-peso fund diversion scam. 

In a resolution promulgated on January 18 but was only made public Wednesday, the Sandiganbayan 1st Division cleared former Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and Dennis Cunanan, former deputy director of the now-defunct Technology and Resource Center (TRC), in their graft cases in connection with the alleged misuse of ex-Cagayan De Oro Rep. Constantino Jaraula's P20-million PDAF. 

The court granted separate demurrer to evidence pleas Relampagos and Cunanan filed on Aug. 6 and 9 last year to seek dismissal of the charges based on insufficiency of prosecution evidence. 

The case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman accused Relampagos of signing Special Allotment Release Orders (SARO) approving the release of Jaraula's PDAF to the TRC.

The court, however, said in its resolution that it was within Relampagos’ lawful authority to sign the documents.

The court also noted that statements of whistle blowers including Benhur Luy, who served as prosecution witness, were mere hearsay. 

Luy had claimed that businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged brains behind the multibillion-peso PDAF scam, had hosted a birthday party for Relampagos. 

“As to accused Napoles’ alleged hosting of a birthday party for Relampagos, even assuming arguendo to be true, still does not establish the latter’s participation in the conspiracy especially since it happened in 2010 or 2011, or at least three years after the subject transactions,” the court said. 

The resolution was penned by Division Chairperson Efren de la Cruz, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.

The court, likewise, did not give weight to the tesimony of Luy regarding the supposed participation of Cunanan who signed disbursement vouchers certifying that TRC released grants to non-government organization CARED.

The court said Luy had no personal knowledge about the supposed delivery of money made by a certain Evelyn De Leon, who was never presented in court. 

It was also noted that in the summary of rebates or commissions made by Luy, there was money that was “coursed through TRC in 2008.”

“There is thus no certainty that what accused Cunanan purportedly received were kickbacks in relation to the subject SAROs in the present cases,” the court said. 

The court also ordered the hold departure orders against Relampagos and Cunanan lifted.

Both Relampagos and Cunanan, however, have pending PDAF scam cases in other Sandiganbayan divisions.

Early in 2018, Relampagos’ lawyers notified the Sandiganbayan that he has no plans of returning to the Philippines after flying to the United States.