Charged with graft, ex-PhilRice official opts to plea bargain

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    FORMER Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) executive director Ronilo A. Beronio has offered to plead guilty to lesser offenses rather than stand trial in three graft charges filed against him in 2018 by the Office of the Ombudsman.

    In a five-page resolution dated July 29, 2020, the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division ordered Beronio re-arraigned on October 2, 2020 on three counts of violation of Section 7 (a) of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards.

    He was originally accused of entering into contracts that were grossly disadvantageous to the government by signing Hold Out Agreements (HOA) with the Philippine National Bank (PNB) covering PhilRice’s funds in the bank.

    Also named in the original charges were former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap as then concurrent PhilRice board chairman, and eight other Philrice officials.

    Graft investigators from the Ombudsman said the through the HOA, the PhilRice executives obtained a P15.78 million loan for a car plan.

    Prosecutors said the move was irregular because PhilRice deposits were supposed to be withdrawable at any time but the HOAs tied those funds to the condition that they cannot be withdrawn until the loans have been paid in full.

    In addition, the private cars purchased by PhilRice officials were leased to the agency but without undergoing the required public bidding.

    The car plan beneficiaries also continued to receive transportation allowances from the PhilRice even if they were already using the leased cars as service vehicles.

    Beronio was accused specifically of intervention in the issuance of administrative orders that made the car plan possible wherein he was among the beneficiaries.

    Although he entered a not guilty plea during his arraignment on May 24, 2019, Beronio subsequently manifested his willingness to plead guilty to lesser offenses.

    The prosecution and the defense filed a Joint Motion to Approve Plea Bargaining Agreement on September 25, 2019.

    While the court notified Beronio that he may be placing himself at risk of double jeopardy by agreeing to plead guilty to all three counts of RA 6713, the defendant submitted a Waiver of Right on March 13, 2020.