Sandiganbayan clears ex-PRC chair accused of graft over lease deal

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 24 2020 04:40 PM

The Sandiganbayan building in Quezon City, February 19, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) chairperson Teresita Manzala and several of her subordinates of graft over a complaint stemming from an office lease deal from 2011 to 2012.

In the decision of the anti-graft court's 6th division promulgated on Nov. 20, Manzala and other PRC officials namely Alfredo Po, Teofilo Gaius Sison, Jr., Sarah Edna Tabije, and Tricia Camara were cleared after the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The case stemmed from the information filed by the Ombudsman, where it accused PRC officials of conspiring to give undue advantage to the owner of CTLL Building in Baguio City for the alleged irregular lease of office space amounting to P6.696 million without competitive public bidding.

However, Sandiganbayan 6th Division chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez, who penned the ruling, said the officials' decision to do away with the bidding was justified based on the circumstances. 

"The evidence shows that the resort to negotiated procurement was justified. Thus, the accused could not have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence for not conducting competitive bidding," the court said in the decision penned by Division chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Kevin Narce Vivero.

The court also said that there was no partiality in the selection of the building as it was based on market and cost-benefit analyses.

The court, however, found that Manzala’s failure to ensure that proper procedure in the selection of the lessor constitutes negligence, although it was not gross nor inexcusable.

It was also noted that there was an apparent overpayment of rent which could have been rectified, but the lease was continued until 2017.

"Moreover, the apparent overpayment cannot be used as a basis for said accused’s conviction because such fact was not raised as an issue, and was not even alleged in the information," the court said.

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