By Czarina Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has affirmed its decision convicting former Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon Pelayo “E.R.” Ejercito of his graft charge involving the anomalous insurance deal that the Pagsanjan municipal government entered into with First Rapids Care Ventures (FRCV) back in 2008.
The insurance deal, which provided accident protection and financial assistance to Pagsanjan tourists and qualified boatmen plying the route to and from the Pagsanjan Gorge Tourist Zone, was considered disadvantageous to the government because the FRCV was not licensed and not in possession of a certificate of authority from the Insurance Commission.
At the same time, Ejercito and his co-accused entered into the memorandum of agreement with FRCV without undergoing the requisite public bidding under R.A. 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Ejercito, whose screen name is Jeorge Ejercito Estregan, explained in his motion for reconsideration (MR) that the insurance deal was a private undertaking so the municipality had no say in the transactions. However, his MR was denied by the anti-graft court for lack of merit.
The court said in its resolution that the “arguments cannot stand side by side.” “If the boat ride services along the Pagsanjan Gorge were a purely private affair, the municipality would have no legal authority to enter into a contract that would require FRCV to provide its services to the boatmen and tourists,” the resolution stated.
“At most, the municipality could have only required the boatmen to obtain third-party liability insurance or require tourists to have a trained professional assist them in their boat ride,” it added.
Ejercito and his co-accused entered into the MOA with FRCV after the Sangguniang Bayan members gave them authority to do so. However, the matter was not formally referred to the municipality’s bids and awards committee (BAC).
Ejercito tried to explain that they were not familiar with the law requiring the participation of the BAC, but the anti-graft court said this reason does not excuse them from liability.
The accused tried to defend themselves by saying that FRCV was composed of experts and it had full capacity to engage in the services needed by the municipality. Unfortunately, the court did not seem to think so.
“In any case, the question of how FRCV performed its services does not serve to redefine what the contents of the MOA entered into by the municipality are, and what was required by law to make the same lawful,” the resolution read.
Ejercito was convicted for violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act alongside former vice mayor Crisostomo B. Vilar, councilors Arlyn Lazaro-Torres, Terryl Gamit-Talabong, Kalahi Rabago, Erwin Sacluti, Gener Dimaranan, and Ronaldo Sablan. FRCV owner Marilyn Bruel likewise faced conviction.
They were sentenced to six to eight years imprisonment with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
The 18-page resolution was penned by Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto with the concurrence of Fourth Division Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz.