Acquittal of ex-LRTA chief, 12 others on graft raps affirmed

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    THE Sandiganbayan has junked the appeal filed by government prosecutors seeking reversal of the November 20, 2019 resolution that dismissed a graft case against former Light Rail Transit Authority administrator (LRTA) Melquiades Robles and 12 co-accused over an alleged anomalous service contract in 2009.

    Associate Justice Rafael R. Lagos penned the resolution dated January 27, 2020 that affirmed the acquittal of the defendants on insufficiency of evidence. Associate Justices Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurred.

    In the assailed ruling, the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Robles and the rest of the defendants on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove key elements of the alleged criminal offense.

    Aside from Robles, also charged were department managers Federico Canar Jr., Marilou Liscano, Elmo Stephen Triste, and Nicholas Ombao; division managers Dennis Francisco, Evelyn Macalino, Eduardo Abiva, Maynard Tolosa, Juliet Labisto; and procurement services chief Roger Vaño.

    Named private defendants were Lilia Diaz and Dennis Acorda of the joint venture (JV) of COMM Builders and Technology Philippines Corp., PMP Inc., and Gradski Soabracaj GRAS.

    The Office of the Ombudsman said the 2009 contract covered preventive and corrective maintenance and required the contractor to provide at least 793 workers and janitors to be deployed in the entire length of LRT Line 1, including the stations and rolling stocks.
    However, investigators said only 209 personnel were sent to work on the stations and the depots.

    Despite this, prosecutors said the contractor was paid P400.6 million despite non-compliance with the terms of its contract.

    In acquitting the defendants, the Sandiganbayan noted that the prosecution claimed 321 janitors were supposed to service the length of the entire LRT-1 line but no evidence was presented during trial to establish where this number came from as well as the supposed P3,373,808.51 monthly payment that was supposed to be made to the manpower supplier.

    The journal entry vouchers, the budget utilization slips, disbursement vouchers or the sales invoices marked by the prosecution did not indicate the said amount.

    “So, where did the prosecution get this figure when it framed the information?” the court noted.

    The Sandiganbayan underscored the poor performance of prosecutors in pursuing the case.

    A government auditor who was called to the witness stand supposedly to identify original documents that will shore up the government case did not get to finish her testimony.

    While there was an allegation of excessive payments made by LRTA to the contractor, there was hardly any evidence to support the allegation of undue injury of P1.072 million overpayment per month or P12.865 million for 2009.

    “The prosecution’s own evidence showed different figures, mainly because there were two sets of computations made by the Ombudsman investigators, not one of which was produced during the trial,” the Sandiganbayan said.