Dismissal of graft charge vs Olongapo mayor affirmed

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    THE Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has affirmed its Resolution dated July 26, 2019 dismissing the graft case filed against former Olongapo City mayor Rolen C. Paulino, vice mayor Aquilino Cortez Jr., 14 other city officials.

    In a 16-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta, the anti-graft court denied the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration and supplemental motion for reconsideration as it upheld its previous pronouncement that the case filed was defective.

    Based on the case filed, the defendants were accused of acting with undue haste in approving the lease contract with SM Prime Holdings Inc. (SMPHI) over the Olongapo City Civic Center on October 31, 2014.

    Prosecutors said the contract was covered by the provisions of RA 6957 or the Build-Operate-and-Transfer Law as amended.

    They claimed the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) recommended the issuance of a notice of award without making sure the transaction complied with the BOT Law, while Paulino supposedly failed to observe the 60-day period from the publication of the last invitation to bid by prematurely releasing the notice of award.

    The Sandiganbayan ruled in favor of the defense stand that the transaction was not covered by the BOT Law as it was not a private sector infrastructure or development project, but a lease contract with the obligation to develop the leased space for commercial purposes.

    It said the prosecution incorrectly applied RA 6957 in declaring that the contract should have been submitted for review by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC).

    The court said the nature of the lease agreement is for commercial purposes and it follows that the contract is outside the scope of the BOT Law and its implementing rules.

    In its motion for reconsideration, the prosecution argued that the court erred in appreciating the lease agreement as a lease contract rather than a private sector infrastructure or development project.

    It pointed out that the agreement included a requirement for the SMPHI to “finance, design, construct, and develop” the Marikit Park and East Bajac-bajac (EBB) Riverside Development; construction of a new EBB-Kalaklan access bridge; finance the construction of a new integrated City Museum, City Public Library, Civic Center, City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office and the Olongapo City Convention Center; and to relocate the Gordon College building.

    However, the court noted that the Amended Information did not allege that the lease agreement was covered by the BOT Law.