THE appeal of former Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. for the reversal of his graft conviction on August 26, 2020 has been thrown out on a close 3-2 vote by a special division of the Sandiganbayan.
Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez penned the majority resolution dated January 22, 2021 that denied Floirendo’s motion for reconsideration.
Associate Justices Karl B. Miranda and Efren N. de la Cruz concurred with the ponente while Associate Justices Kevin Narce B. Vivero and Ronald B. Moreno dissented.
The defense challenged the validity of the guilty ruling on the ground that there was neither conflict of interest nor proof of intent to gain.
Floirendo’s lawyers claimed the spirit and intent of Section 3 (h) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act was to prevent conflict of interest between public official and a private enterprise hence the court was wrong in finding him guilty based on his “insubstantial holdings.”
The Sandiganbayan had convicted the former congressman far having an unlawful interest in the land lease contract between Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) signed in 2003 when he was the representative of the Second Legislative District of Davao del Norte.
Prosecutors presented evidence that there were 75,000 Tadeco shares in the defendant’s name when the lease contract was extended on May 21, 2003.
In his appeal, Floirendo pointed out that the 75,000 shares comprised less than one percent or exactly 0.89 percent of the total outstanding stocks of Tadeco – too minuscule to be deemed covered by the definition of “prohibited interest.”
The lone dissent came from Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero who submitted the opinion that the 75,000 shares held by the former congressman comprising just 0.89 percent of the total outstanding stocks of Tagum Agricultural Development Co. Inc. (Tadeco) was too “insubstantial” to be deemed covered by the definition of prohibited interest.
The case information filed on February 9, 2018 alleged that Florendo held on to his 75,000 shares in Tadeco despite the constitutional prohibition when the company signed a renewal of its land lease deal with the BuCor on May 21, 2003.
Even if taken together with his 537,950 shares in Anflo Management and Investment Corp. (Anflocor), the company that controls a majority stake in Tadeco, Floirendo said there was still insufficient evidence that he had committed anything unlawful or illegal.
He added that his work as a member of Congress had nothing to do with the Tadeco-BuCor contract as he did not participate in the management of Tadeco or took part in negotiation or implementation of the joint venture agreement.
He insisted that mere nominal interest in certain government contracts is not contrary to law or the Constitution and that Tadeco has a personality distinct and separate from him.
However, majority members in the special division saw otherwise.
“Had the framers intended the provision to apply only to actual conflict of interest situations or to those involving actual use of influence, the provision would have been worded as such. But as worded in its current form, the provision is intended to be all-encompassing and all-embracing, to apply to a wide range of situations from which conflict of interest or such use of influence may arise,” the court pointed out.
The court said divestment of interest by a member of Congress is mandatory where mere holding of such interest is prohibited and not simply when conflict of interest arises.