THE Sandiganbayan has slapped a 90-day preventive suspension against Mandaue City councilor Nerissa Soon-Ruiz based on 34 pending counts of criminal charges for graft, malversation thru falsification of public documents, and malversation of public funds.
The charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman last year alleged that Soon-Ruiz acted in conspiracy with former top officials of government-owned or controlled corporations in the alleged fraudulent transfer of her Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to dubious non-government organizations (NGOs) in 2007 to 2009 while she was a congresswoman of the sixth district of Cebu province.
Prosecutors identified the GOCCs as the National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor), Technology Resource Center (TRC) and National Livelihood and Development Center (NLDC).
They alleged Soon-Ruiz’s PDAF was funneled into bogus NGOs Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation Inc. (KKAMFI), Gabaymasa Development Foundation Inc (GDFI), and Gabay at Pag-asa and Masa Foundation Inc (GPMFI) because they did not go through the required public bidding.
Based on case records, the funds were intended for the implementation of livelihood projects in Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-lapu City, and the municipalities of Cordova and Consolacion.
During her arraignment last November 15, 2019, Soon-Ruiz pleaded Not Guilty to the charges and petitioned the court to defer the issuance of a suspension order.
She said her lawyers were planning to challenge the inclusion of her name among the defendants, so that if she earns a favorable ruling, the pending cases before the court will be dismissed.
The accused likewise invoked her right to due process and the protection of the rights of her constituents who voted her in office.
Soon-Ruiz added that the purpose of the suspension to prevent her from intimidating or influencing potential prosecution witnesses is already moot since the cases are already on trial even as she argued that she is no longer in position to frustrate her prosecution because she is no longer a congresswoman.
The anti-graft court disagreed with Soon-Ruiz, noting that the defendant was asking the court to exercise discretion it is not vested with under the law.
“Suffice it to state that the Court has neither the discretion nor duty to determine whether preventive suspension is required to prevent accused from using his office to intimidate witnesses,” the Sandiganayan said.
The Sandiganbayan directed the Department of Interior and Local Government was directed to enforce the suspension against the city councilor.