By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has dismissed the graft charges filed against several former officials of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) after the prosecution manifested that it wanted to withdraw the charges.
The officials were slapped with multiple violations of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for their involvement in the P68 million irregular disbursements and procurement of office, hardware, construction supplies, information technology equipment, and cellular phone cards back in 2014.
They are former Commandant Rodolfo Isorena (25 counts); Rear Admirals William Melad and Cecil Chen (16 counts); Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, Jr. (two counts); Commodore Aaron Reconquista (16counts); Commanders John Esplana (16 counts), William Arquero (two counts), Jude Thaddeus Besinga (two counts), Roben De Guzman (two counts), Ferdinand Panganiban (two counts), Joselito Quintas (two counts), Ivan Roldan (two counts), Rommel Supangan (25 counts), George Ursabia, Jr. (25 counts), Ferdinand Velasco (25 counts), Wilfred Burgos (25 counts) and Allen Dalangin (25 counts); Captains Joeven Fabul (25 counts), Angelito Gil (two counts), Angel Lobaton IV (25 counts), Christopher Villacorte (25 counts) and Ramon Lopez (25 counts); Lieutenants Mark Larsen Mariano (25 counts) and Mark Franklin Lim II (25 counts), and Accounting Head Rogelio Caguioa (25 counts).
The prosecution filed a motion and supplement on August 1, 2019 and prayed for the withdrawal of all the information filed on December 14, 2017 and amended information dated June 22, 2018.
This was because of the “exoneration of some of the accused herein in the administrative cases filed before the Court of Appeals upon which the present criminal cases were necessitated a reconsideration of its earlier determination of probable cause.”
The prosecution likewise said that after a reexamination of the facts and evidence, it came to a conclusion that it could nott effectively prosecute the officials of graft in the absence of sufficient evidence on record.
The anti-graft court granted the prosecution’s motion on September 6. The resolution was penned by Chairperson Alex Quiroz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Bayani Jacinto and Lorifel Pahimna.
The charges against the PCG officials were ordered by former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. In her resolution signed on July 24, 2017, Morales said that the fraud was discovered by the investigating panel when the abovementioned items were delivered.
Cdr. Arquero was allowed a total budget of P930,300 for cellular cards, Capt. Lopez and Cdr. Quintas were allowed a total of P4,239,710, and Cdr. Supangan was allowed a total of P899,700.
The officials would then split the purchases into different transactions in order to evade public bidding. The same practice of splitting was also found to be present with respect to the disbursement of the P4 million allotment for troops and organizational support and “Command and staff support.”
The purchases of regular office supplies, cleaning materials, hardware, and groceries were therefore split into P1 million purchases from February to May 2014.
Morales said that the respondents have acted in their individual official capacities with “manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and gross inexcusable negligence” in using public funds to purchase cell cards, hardware, office, construction, and IT supplies such as Moleskine journals, Artline fabric markers, Pilot ballpens, Epson styluses, colored printer ink, wireless optical mouses, Energizer batteries, paints, screwdrivers, wireless routers, and many other things.
“The above deficiencies should have prevented the disbursements or, at the very least, inspired caution considering the amounts involved and the frequency in which they were being requested. Still, the SCAs were approved and a total of P68,041,832.00 in public funds released,” she said.
“[A]s the disbursements under process involved SCAs, it became incumbent upon respondents – especially VAdmn. Isorena as the head of the agency – to ensure that the funds disbursed were utilized in accordance with the law,” she added.