FORMER Department of Education-Regional Office 9 regional director Jesus Loretizo Nieves has been convicted of graft and malversation charges by the Sandiganbayan First Division for alleged collusion with a former staff to siphon off P6.35 million from agency funds.
Based on the 32-page decision penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg and concurred in by Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz and Edgardo M. Caldona, the anti-graft court sentenced Nieves to imprisonment for six to 10 years in the graft case and an additional 15 to 17 years for the malversation case or a total of 21 to 27 years.
He was also ordered to pay back the government the entire sum of P6,347,354.76 subject to six percent tax per year from the finality of the decision until it’s fully paid.
His co-accused, DepEd accountant Marilou Tolosa, was acquitted on both charges due to lack of evidence to establish her involvement in the crime.
The other DepEd official who was implicated, cashier Virginia Montero, died before the cases were filed in court. According to the Sandiganbayan, evidence on record suggests she and Nieves were the ones who made the unauthorized withdrawal of the amount possible.
Trial records showed Nieves and Montero issued an authorization letter dated November 28, 2007 to the Philippine Veterans Bank to transfer the P6.347 million from the DepEd RO9’s payroll account to the Belgian Integrated Agrarian Reform Support Program (BIARSP).
The fund transfer took place the following day and on the same date the full amount was withdrawn through a check payable to Montero.
According to the testimony offered by the defendants, the amount was intended for the hazard pay of teachers for that year.
However, a special audit revealed that BIARSP account is a special purpose project that was already completed and terminated in 2003. It also had nothing to do with the payroll for public school teachers.
By her own statement in court, Tolosa said she had requested the PVB that the BIARSP account be closed permanently on August 13, 2007. The records showed at the time, the trust account only held P157.93.
A certification by the DepEd Budgeting assistant dated July 18, 2008 said two checks went into the BIARSP account and were withdrawn within the day – the first containing P6.164 million and the second for P6.347 million. Only the latter amount was involved the graft and malversation case.
In his defense, Nieves blamed the deceased Montero claiming she made him sign documents without identifying the accounts involved so that he had no inkling that a crime was being committed.
The court gave this claim no credence.
“His act of affixing his signature to an authorization for the movement of such a substantial amount of money, without verifying the account numbers…already constitutes gross in excusable negligence,” the Sandiganbayan declared.
Likewise, the court noted that by his own words during cross-examination, Nieves admitted that he was acting with bad faith in authorizing the fund transfer.
He acknowledged that he allowed the fund transfer even before the DepEd Central Office had released the list of teachers who are entitled to hazard pay and that he had planned on using the BIARSP funds even if it was a trust fund with a different purpose.“Another irregularity in the transfer of the funds is the fact that the alleged excess fund is being transferred for the payment of hazard pay, an expense which the DepEd had automatic allocation for,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“The only apparent and logical reason that can be read from the actuations of Nieves is that he acted in evident bad faith with Montero, and that they fully intend to commit fraud and take the amount of P6,347,354.76 from the public coffers,” it added.