By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The camp of former Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon Pelayo “E.R.” Ejercito is confident that his graft conviction before the Sandiganbayan will be overturned by the Supreme Court (SC).
In a press conference held at a restaurant in Quezon City Circle Tuesday morning, Ejercito’s lawyer Larry Gadon said that the guilty verdict by the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division is not yet final because they have yet to elevate the case to the SC.
He was convicted for violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the anomalous insurance deal that the Pagsanjan municipal government entered into with private company First Rapids Care Ventures (FRCV) back in 2008.
Gadon said he has carefully reviewed the case and the decision, and he is certain that the guilty verdict will be overturned once it reaches the SC. “It’s a question of a law whether the intention to create the program is legal or not,” he said.
He explained that the decision deals with insurance for the Shooting the Rapids attraction in Pagsanjan Falls. However, it is not really an insurance deal, but rather, a protection program.
Ejercito then said that nobody wanted to bid on the protection program for boatmen and passengers because it was very risky, so they settled with a negotiated contract. The deal even went through the Government Procurement Policy Board, so there was no way he pocketed money from the deal. “Walang pagnanakaw dito (There was no stealing involved),” he said.
Because of his conviction, Ejercito was sentenced to six to eight years imprisonment with perpetual disqualification from holding public office. But since the decision is not yet final, and he plans to seek legal remedies for it, Gadon said Ejercito is still free to run for office as Laguna governor.
Ejercito, whose screen name is Jeorge Ejercito Estregan, was charged with graft due to a violation he committed when he was still municipal mayor of Pagsanjan.
On October 23, 2008, Ejercito and former vice mayor Crisostomo B. Vilar, councilors Arlyn Lazaro-Torres, Terryl Gamit-Talabong, Kalahi Rabago, Erwin Sacluti, Gener Dimaranan, and Ronaldo Sablan reportedly conspired with FRCV owner Marilyn Bruel.
They entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with FRCV to provide accident protection and financial assistance to Pagsanjan tourists and legitimate and qualified boatmen plying the route to and from the Pagsanjan Gorge Tourist Zone.
The insurance covered loss of life, disablement, medical reimbursement, and ambulance or hospital transfer reimbursement. However, the accused entered into the MOA without undergoing the requisite public bidding under R.A. 9184.
At the same time, the FRCV was not licensed nor is in possession of a certificate of authority from the Insurance Commission to engage in the insurance business.
Vilar was acquitted of his graft charge, while the case against Sablan was dismissed due to his death. Ejercito’s other co-accused, on the other hand, were also convicted.