CITING reasonable doubt, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has acquitted two officials of the Bulacan Environment and Natural Resources Office (BENRO) of seven counts of graft for alleged unlawful permits given to small mining firms to transport and sell P17.73 million worth of stockpiled iron ore in 2011 and 2012.
In its 99-page decision, the anti-graft court said testimonial and documentary evidence presented by government prosecutors painted a crime against the environment and public interest but the case was filed against the wrong people.
Acquitted of all seven charges were BENRO provincial department head Rustico de Belen and Natural Resources Management Division officer-in-charge Antonio Cacdac.
Also cleared of criminal liability were private defendants Lucila Valdez (four counts) and Eduardo Mercado (three counts), small-scale miners operating at the municipality of Doña Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan.
The January 22, 2021 ruling penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta said the evidence on record hinted at the involvement of other higher officials at the BENRO, Mines and Geosciences Bureau – Region III, and the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB).
“The animated spirit the prosecutor brought however could not disguise the systemic anomaly that may have besieged the offices of ENRO-Bulacan, MGB Region III, and PMRB, which in the end could not bear down on the shoulders of one or two officials alone,” the court declared.
However, it said the evidence fell short of showing that undue injury was caused either to the government or to the complainant mining firm.
Likewise, it said the action for De Belen and Cacdac in issuing the Ore Transport Permit (OTP) must be accorded presumption of regularity because of Memorandum Order No. 01, s. 2011 issued by then Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino M. Sy Alvarado authorizing De Belen as BENRO head to issue OTPs and Mineral Ore Export Permits (MOEPs).
This even if the court pointed out that there is a question of the legality of the governor’s action in transferring such authority which was entrusted to his office under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Administrative Order No. 2010-21.
Associate Justices Zaldy V. Trespeses and Georgina D. Hidalgo concurred.
The charges stemmed from the complaint filed by Atlantic Mines and Trading Corporation (AMTC) claiming it suffered damages from the removal of the stockpiled iron ore from Barangay Camachin, Doña Remedios Trinidad.
However, the court pointed out that the claim of injury on the part of AMTC is “more imagined than real” since it was only holding a limited authority under an exploration permit which meant all it can obtain are samples but it cannot do a commercial operation.