Former Bacolod City congressman walks on graft rap

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    FORMER Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan of a graft charge filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2014 over alleged irregularities in the disbursement of his P26 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel allocations.

    In a 34-page decision promulgated November 16, 2020, the anti-graft court’s Second Division said the prosecution’ evidence failed to prove all the elements of violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against Puentevella and private defendant Jessie Garcia.

    The court said it found the government’s evidence wanting with regard to the allegation that the defendant acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence. Likewise unproven was the existence of undue injury to the government or unwarranted benefit or advantage given to another party.

    Associate Justice and Second Division chairman Oscar C. Herrera Jr. penned the ruling, with Associate Justices Michael Frederick L. Musngi and Bayani H. Jacinto concurring.

    Based on the information approved by the Ombudsman on September 20, 2013, Puentevella was accused of favoring private supplier Merryland Publishing Corp. (MPC) by endorsing the company to the Department of Education-Region 6 in 2002 up to 2006 as supplier of P26 million worth of information technology packages to be purchased using his PDAF allocations.

    Prosecutors said the transaction did not undergo any public bidding.

    The court, however, pointed out that other than being a congressman of the city’s lone district whose office received the PDAF allocation, Puentevella had no other involvement in the procurement.

    “To begin with, it was the Bids and Awards Committee of DepEd Region 6 that resorted to direct contracting in the procurement of the IT packages. The justification given is that MPC is the exclusive distributor of the IT packages to be procured,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    The court also noted the absence of any evidence to show that Puentevella endorsed Merryland as the preferred supplier to DepEd Region 6 as it was his chief of staff, Rhoderick Samonte, who wrote to DepEd Region 6 advising the agency that MPC is authorized to transact regarding the IT packages.

    “The letter merely reminded the DepEd Region 6 that there be a smooth and speedy implementation of the project. It was not endorsement on the part of accused Puentevella,” the court said.