PACC Commissioner Greco, brother ARTA Director General Jeremiah Belgica face graft rap

Published January 23, 2021, 11:31 AM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Greco Belgica, his brother Anti-Red Tape Authority Director General Jeremiah Belgica, and four others are facing a complaint for graft before the Office of the Ombudsman due to the alleged irregular application of a dredging permit.

Citizens Crime Watch Association Inc. (CCWAI) President Diego Magpantay filed the complaint against them and ARTA Deputy Director General Ernesto Perez, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Bureau of Equipment Director Toribio Noel Ilao, and private individuals Manolo and Milinia Nuezca, owners of Verdant Pastures Mining International Inc.

He wants them held liable for violating Section 3(e) and (j) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Grave Misconduct, Serious Dishonesty, and Conduct Prejudicial to the Interest of Public Services.

On Dec. 18, 2017, the Nuezcas wrote a letter to the DPWH and requested assistance on the Proposed Maculcol River Flood Control and Dredging Project in Zambales, hoping to secure a favorable response to their application for the dredging permit.

On Jan. 18, 2018, DPWH Undersecretary for Legal Affairs and Priority Projects, Karen Olivia, informed the Nuezcas that Verdant’s application is still pending because it has not complied with all the requirements.

Manolo  wrote a letter to DPWH Undersecretary Rafael Yabut on Sept. 3, 2018 and complained about the alleged delay on their dredging permit application.

Jeremiah, who was a practicing lawyer prior to his appointment, was the private counsel of the Nuezcas at the time. He wrote a letter to DPWH Secretary Mark Villar and intended to pressure the DPWH in favor of Verdant’s dredging permit.

On the basis of the findings of the complaint filed by Manolo against the DPWH officials, ARTA issued an “Order of Automatic Approval” of the dredging clearance signed by Perez on behalf of Jeremiah.

However, Magpantay stressed that Verdant has no pending dredging permit application at the time since Manolo withdrew his application documents on July 23, 2018.

“ARTA’s action in issuing an Order of Automatic Approval despite the absence of a pending dredging permit application was a blatant violation of DPWH Department Order No. 139, Series of 2014 and R.A. 11032 or ‘The Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007,'” the complainant stated.

Magpantay said that the Order of Automatic Approval issued by virtue of the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Delivery Act of 2018 cannot be applied in the case of Verdant because the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is necessary in the issuance of the dredging permit from the DPWH.

But in this case, the complainant said the DENR “could not have possibly issued the ECC in favor of Verdant” because of the issue of conflicting areas of operation. Previous ECCs were already issued to different entities in the past, so the DENR could no longer process subsequent ECC applications until such time that priority rights have been resolved, he said.

Even if there was no pending application for dredging permit or clearance, Ilao and Perez still “unlawfully treated” Manolo’s letter as the purported application for a dredging permit or clearance, Magpantay added.

Greco actively participated in the fact-finding investigation of the complaint of the Nuezcas. He  later ruled in favor of them.

“It bears stressing that Jeremiah, who is the brother of Greco, was the lawyer of the Nuezcas prior to his appointment as ARTA Director General,” the complaint said. “Clearly, Greco’s act of participating in the fact-finding investigation despite his relationship with Jeremiah constituted a violation of the prohibition under the PACC Rules of Procedure.”

The complainant stressed that the respondents should not have used their positions to advance the cause of the Nuezcas because Verdant is clearly not entitled to a dredging permit.