FORMER top executives of Petron Corp. accused of multiple counts of graft have been cleared of any criminal liability by the Sandiganbayan following the dismissal of all charges in two separate resolutions issued last March 2.
Defendant Celso Legarda, former Petron vice president and general manager, won the dismissal of all 48 graft cases filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman concerning allegations of fraudulent transfer of P700.742 million worth of tax credit certificates (TCCs) to the oil firm.
Cleared of 18 counts of graft were former Petron president Monico V. Jacob, former VP for refinery Apolinario Reyes and former senior marketing executive Rafael Diaz Jr. involving P86.055 million worth of TCCs. Cases against a fifth former Petron official, Reynaldo V. Campos, were also ordered dismissed because of his death on January 20, 2013.
But charges against former Department of Finance Undersecretary Antonio Belicena and former deputy director Uldarico Andutan remain active in court.
In ordering the dismissal, the Sandiganbayan said the cases may no longer be tried under the principle of re judicata which bars litigation involving issues that were already resolved with finality.
Petron lawyers invoked the Supreme Court pronouncements in the 2010 case of Pacifico Cruz vs. Sandiganbayan involving P131.2 million worth of TCCs that were allegedly issued illegally by the Department of Finance – One-Stop Shop Inter-Agency Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center (One-Stop Center) transferred to Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. represented by former Pilipinas Shell-Treasury and Taxation Department general manager Pacifico Cruz.
In that ruling, the SC ordered the Sandiganbayan to dismiss the cases against Cruz on the ground that Pilipinas Shell was a “transferee in good faith and for value of the TCCs” and that neither the oil firm nor Cruz was a party to the fraudulent issuance and transfer of the TCCs.
If the TCCs were to be proven questionable, the High Court held that the irregularity happened only at the level of the processing by the DOF-One Stop Center wherein Pilipinas Shell had no participation whatsoever.
The Sandiganbayan noted that since the cases against Pilipinas Shell are similarly situated with the charges against Petron Corp officials, the SC pronouncements should likewise apply to the latter.
Associate Justice Geraldine Faith A, Econg penned both rulings. Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Reynaldo P. Cruz concurred. – Peter Tabingo