By Czarina Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division refused to dismiss the graft charge filed against former Candon Mayor Grace Gacula Singson of Ilocos Sur and nine other individuals in relation to the reportedly irregular purchase of water pumps in 2004.
Singson is facing charges for violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, alongside former City Treasurer Bernardita Mati, City Accountant Eliseo Gacusana, City Agriculturist Prospero Bello, City Budget Officer Perla Gapatan, Sangguniang Panglungsod Secretary Jerry Bang-Asan Malamion, City Engineer Esteban Martinez, City General Services Officer Reynaldo Pilien Querubin, and City Planning and Development Coordinator Naulie Cabanting.
They filed their omnibus motion to dismiss dated April 25, which was adopted by their co-accused, private individual Alain Lee from ACL Farm Hardware Importer and Repair Shop.
In their motion, the accused moved for the dismissal of their case for violation of their right to speedy disposition of cases. At the same time, they argued that the facts charged in the Information against them do not constitute an offense.
They harped on inordinate delay on the part of the prosecution, since there was a significant time that lapsed between the conduct of the fact-finding investigation until the filing of Information before the Sandiganbayan. The accused said the time spent for the conduct of the fact-finding investigation was not separate from the preliminary investigation, and should, therefore, be included for the purpose of determining speedy disposition of cases.
As for the facts charged, the accused said it was “fatal” that the Information did not give details of their individual participation in the conspiracy. Even if the prosecution was successful in proving their acts of conspiracy, the accused argued that no crime can be imputed against their co-accused Singson considering that her participation in the subject transaction was not enough.
However, the anti-graft court saw no merit in their arguments. “The statement of the accused is not accurate. Jurisprudence states that a distinction must be made between fact-finding investigations conducted before and after the filing of a formal complaint,” the resolution read.
As for the sufficiency of facts in the Information, the anti-graft court ruled that indicating acts of conspiracy is not necessary because “it is enough to allege conspiracy as a mode in the commission of an offense.”
“From the foregoing, the Court finds that the Information has accurately alleged the elements of the crime charged, describing the same with such particularity so as to serve its purpose of ensuring that the accused are formally informed of the facts and the acts constituting the offense, enabling them to suitably prepare their defenses,” the resolution read.
The 10-page resolution was written by Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz with the concurrence of Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto.
Back on April 2004, the local officials were accused of conspiring with Martinez and Lee when they awarded to ACL the contract for the purchase of 109 units of Honda G-200 gasoline engine 5hp with Finsburry pump base and accessories worth P1,818,481.45.
They did so even without the available budget when they initiated the bidding on February 2004. The city only received the funding for it on April 15, 2004.
The Abstract of Bids of March 10, 2004 mentioned favorable award to ACL, yet no bids and awards committee resolution and Notice of Award was issued to ACL.
Further, there were irregularities in the actual distribution of the Honda water pumps. Even though the city paid for 109 units, it only received 69.
Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer III Rolando Manjares even found irregularities in the liquidation documents, since the Purchase Request, Purchase Order, Acknowledgment Receipts, and Disbursement Voucher. These were all undated but were still used to facilitate approval and release of payment to ACL.