The Sandiganbayan has acquitted two former officials of the Bulacan Environment and Natural Resources Office (BENRO) and two private individuals of their graft charges involving the alleged illegal sale, transport and export of extracted minerals in 2011 and 2012.
Acquitted of two graft charges each were former BENRO Provincial Department Head Rustico de Belen and Officer-in-Charge of the Natural Resources Management (NRM) Division Antonio A. Cacdac.
Also acquitted were private individuals Lucila S. Valdez and Eduardo D. Mercado were charged with four counts of graft each.
With their acquittal, the anti-graft court ordered the P240,000 bail of De Belen released, while the bonding company of Cacdac, Valdez and Mercado was ordered relieved of its obligations and duties as bondsman.
The 99-page decision was written by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez Estoesta.
The two public officials alleged caused undue injury to Reynaldo R. So of Atlantic Mines and Trading Corporation (AMTC) when they allowed Valdez and Mercado to sell, transport or export the extracted and stockpiled minerals and iron ores even while their small-scale mining permits (SSMP) had already been declared null and void by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
But the anti-graft court said that there is no mining law or established DENR rule or regulation which would prohibit accused De Belen from issuing ore transport permits (OTPs) and mineral ore export permit (MOEP) despite the earlier cancellation of the SSMPs.
“Oddly, while the SSMPs were already declared null and void, application for subject OTPs and MOEP were still processed by the BENRO for verification and validation of the minerals extracted, not just by accused Cacdac alone… but with the assistance of two BENRO officials,” the court said.
“While a conspiracy angle is imputed at this instance by the prosecution, the same cannot be hastily concluded as it is not just the BENRO which conducted the verification and validation but the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) as well,” it added.
It stressed that it would require “damning evidence” to show that De Belen and Cacdac, in conspiracy with one another, exhibited manifest partiality or evident bad faith in the processing of the OTPs and MOEP.