MANILA - Newly-elected Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and Surigao del Sur 1st District Rep. Prospero Pichay are facing graft, malversation and violation of the manual for regulations of bank charges at the Sandiganbayan in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of stocks from a thrift bank partially owned by the Gatchalian family.
Also charged are the senator's brothers, Kenneth and Weslie, and their parents, plastic tycoon William Gatchalian and Dee Hua.
The case stemmed from the P780 million in public funds the Local Water Utilities Administration transferred to Express Savings Bank Inc. (ESBI) in 2009.
Pichay was the head of LWUA when the purchase was made. Meanwhile, the bank is owned by the Gatchalian family, along with the companies Forum Pacific Incorporated (FPI) and WELLEX Group Inc. (WGI). Sherwin, Kenneth, William and Dee Hua were named executives of WGI, and Weslie on FPI.
The investigating body accused LWUA of buying 445,377 stocks from ESBI worth P80 million without the approval from the Office of President, the Monetary Board (MB) of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and the Department of Finance (DOF).
Aside from P80 million paid for the stocks, LWUA also allegedly deposited P300 million in a savings account at ESBI, and another P400 million advance payment for stock subscription to the bank.
The Ombudsman questioned why the transaction pushed through despite negative findings on the diligence audit conducted on ESBI. The bank was allegedly nearing bankruptcy when the transaction took place, with a negative P12.932 million net in 2009, and consistently suffered substantial net losses and capital deficits from 2005 to 2009.
Aside from Pichay and the Gatchalians, 19 other individuals are also charged with graft, malversation and violation of the manual for regulations of the bank, including former LWUA officials Eduardo Bangayan, Aurelio Puentevella, Enrique Senen Montilla III, Wilfredo Feleo, and Daniel Landingin.
WGI executives Elvira Ting, and Yolanda Dela Cruz; FPI executives Peter Salud, Geronimo Velasco, Jr., Rogelio Garcia, Lamberto Mercado, Jr., Evelyn dela Rosa, Arthur Ponsaran, and Joaquin Obieta; and ESBI executives George Chua, Gregorio Ipong, Generoso Tulagan, Wilfred Billena and Edita Bueno also face charges.
Meanwhile, Pichay, Montilla, Feleo and LWUA board secretary Arnaldo Espinas are charged for violating the General Banking Law of 2000.
Gatchalian is confident he would obtain a "speedy and definitive" acquittal before the anti-graft court, saying there is no clear evidence linking him to ESBI and the supposedly anomalous sale.
He said he was never involved in the management of the bank, including the negotiations regarding the bank's sale to LWUA in 2009.
"My only involvement with ESBI was my ownership of 14 shares of stock, representing a measly 0.00001886062 percent of the total shareholdings sold to LWUA," he said.
Gatchalian said for the sale of those shares, he received a total of P2,514.82.
"The Ombudsman has such little evidence against me that they have actually started creating facts out of thin air," he said.
"I am ready to fully cooperate with court processes in hopes of obtaining a speedy acquittal from these baseless charges. During my 15-year career in public service, I have never had any allegations of corruption or abuse of power thrown my way. I am confident that the Sandiganbayan will vindicate my honor and put this issue to rest, once and for all," he added.