2 ex-NABCOR execs face up to 40 years jail time over P5M pork barrel funds

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2022 09:04 PM | Updated as of Sep 07 2022 09:16 PM

MANILA — With a congressman already dead and their former boss still at large, two former executives of the National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR) are now facing the consequences of the illegal release of about P5 million in Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or pork barrel funds in 2008.

Encarnita-Cristina Potian Munsod, NABCOR’s former Human Resources and Administrative manager, and Romulo Relevo, its former head of General Services Unit, were convicted of two counts of graft and two counts of malversation of public funds by the Sandiganbayan on Friday.

Also convicted was Margie Tajon Luz, the president of GABAYMASA Development Foundation, the NGO that received the funds.

All three were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for the four charges, ordered to pay P4.85 million in fines, and directed to return the same amount to the Bureau of Treasury.

They were also perpetually disqualified from holding public office and stripped of retirement benefits.

The case stemmed from the illegal disbursement of PDAF funds of former Eastern Samar Rep. Teodulo “Doloy” Montances Coquilla to NABCOR and GABAYMASA.

Munsod and Relevo were authorized by former NABCOR president Alan Javellana to sign disbursement vouchers to release P4.365 million and P485,000 to GABAYMASA in January and July 2008.

Luz, meanwhile, signed a memorandum of agreement with Javellana, who also approved the release of the funds and caused the issuance of the checks to the NGO.

The anti-graft court found the disbursement to be illegal because Coquilla unilaterally chose GABAYMASA to implement livelihood projects without public and competitive bidding, even though it was not qualified and accredited. 

Coquilla died on April 28, 2018 and the charges against him were subsequently dismissed because of his passing.

Javellana, NABCOR chief accountant Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, and GABAYMASA’s Ma. Cristina Vizcarra remain at large. The Sandiganbayan archived the cases against them.

In convicting Munsod, Relevo and Luz for graft, the Sandiganbayan said the 2007 General Appropriations Act, a resolution for the Government Procurement Policy Board and a national budget circular prohibited the direct release of funds to other government agencies or NGOs not specifically enumerated in the list of implementing agencies, or the direct contracting of an NGO for PDAF-funded programs.

“Despite such clear and unambiguous prohibition in the law and the relevant rules and regulations, accused Coquilla nevertheless allowed the participation of NABCOR and GABAYMASA in the implementation of his PDAF-funded projects, all at his behest. Indeed, what cannot be legally done directly cannot be done indirectly,” the Sandiganbayan Third Division said through Associate Justice Ronald Moreno.

Division Chair Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez concurred in the ruling.

The Sandiganbayan said Coquilla gave unwarranted benefits and advantages to NABCOR and GABAYMASA, and caused injury to the government.

It cited findings of the Commission on Audit that the award of the project violated its circular because GABAYMASA was not based in the community where the project was to be implemented, it did not submit required documents, and the award did not go through bidding.

COA noted the NGO’s “highly questionable” existence because its address was a residential unit in Quezon City, and was not issued a business permit by the QC local government to operate.

COA also found irregularities in the implementation of the projects such as fake quotations from supposed suppliers, falsified deliveries of seedlings of agricultural crops and instructional materials, and receipts and invoices that were dated prior to the signing of the MOA. The winning bidder for supply of seedlings was an ornamental shop, while a seller of car batteries won the bid for supply of instructional materials.

In the conviction for malversation, the anti-graft court found the accused to be accountable officers — Coquilla, Munsod and Relevo as government officials and Luz, as NABCOR’s project partner — who have control over public PDAF-drawn funds and all liable for misappropriating them.

The anti-graft court said all the accused acted in conspiracy.

“As culled from the records, accused Relevo, Munsod, and Luz willingly went along with the ignoble scheme of accused Coquilla by completing the act of embezzling the PDAF-drawn funds through the implementation of a fictitious and non-existent livelihood project,” it said.

In her defense, Munsod explained that she was not aware of the prohibitions and she assumed that the NABCOR’s accounting department already checked all the documents. She was also a probationary officer at the time she was given authority to sign disbursement vouchers.

Relevo, for his part, said he did not take part in the selection of the NGO and in the implementation of the livelihood projects.

He said he was only verbally ordered by Javellana to sign the disbursement voucher because Munsod was then on medical leave. He pointed out he was merely a probationary employee when he signed the voucher.

The anti-graft court rejected their explanations.

“Their certification as the first signatories of the disbursement vouchers made it appear that the disbursements were indeed necessary and lawful despite the glaring deficiencies in the attached supporting documents. While both accused made assumption that the accounting department of NABCOR already cleared the documents attached to the disbursement vouchers, they admitted that they did not make their own confirmation that the disbursements were indeed necessary and lawful,” the court said.

“Corollary, when an authorized person approves a disbursement voucher, he certifies to the correctness of the entries therein, among others: that the expenses incurred were necessary and lawful, the supporting documents are complete, and the availability of cash therefor. He also attests that the person who performed the services or delivered the supplies, materials, or equipment is entitled to payment,” it added.

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