THE Sandiganbayan has ordered Davao del Sur vice governor Marc Douglas Cagas IV placed under preventive suspension for 90 days based on pending multiple criminal charges against him in connection to allegations of misuse of his P6 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel” allocations while he was a congressman in 2008.
Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang penned the 10-page resolution of the Third Division that directed the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to enforce the suspension against the defendant and to submit a report within five days of implementation.
Associate Justices Bernelito R. Fernandez and Ronald B. Moreno concurred in the ponencia that affirmed the mandatory nature of suspension of public officials charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) and other crimes involving fraud against government funds.
Cagas is facing two counts each of graft and malversation of public funds for allegedly funneling his P6 million PDAF into Farmerbusiness Development Corp, an NGO he was supposed to have personally chosen, using Technology Resource Center (TRC), a government-owned or controlled corporation as a conduit.
Named as his co-accused were his project consultant Vanie Semillano, TRC director generals Antonio Ortiz and Dennis Cunanan, corporate support head Francisco Figura, technology and livelihood group head Maria Rosalinda Lacsamana, chief accountant Marivic Jover, and internal auditor Maurine Dimaranan.
Included as private defendants were Johanne Edward Labay, Arnolfo Reyes, and Aileen Carrasco, all officials of Farmerbusiness Development Corp.
In his pleading, Cagas had claimed that the suspension of a public official was made discretionary to the Sandiganbayan rather than mandatory based on the pronouncements of the Supreme Court in the case of Crespo vs. Mogul.
He argued that the anti-graft court can spare him from the imposition of suspension pendente lite as he pointed out that there is no longer any likelihood that he can still taper with documents pertaining to the PDAF transactions or influence potential witnesses for the prosecution.
The Sandiganbayan however disagreed.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that it is the ministerial duty of the Court to suspend an accused once it is positively ascertained that the information filed against him is valid,” it pointed out.
It added that the discretion given to the court in the Crespo case had nothing to do with preventive suspension of a government official but whether or not to proceed to trial on the pending case.
The Sandiganbayan held that the defense mistakenly invoked the rule of lenity which involves leniency on the part of the court in imposing punishment against an accused where there is ambiguity in the law.