THERE is no stopping the Sandiganbayan from proceeding with the multiple criminal charges slapped against former vice president Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, his son former Makati City mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay and their co-defendants despite their unresolved appeal before the Commission on Audit on the review of the Makati City Hall Parking Building contract.
In a 23-page resolution, the Sandiganbayan Third Division threw out the seven separate motions filed by the accused seeking suspension or dismissal of the cases citing the pendency of a final ruling by the COA Commission Proper on the propriety of payments made by the city government to contractors.
The elder Binay has argued that the graft, falsification and malversation cases against them are intimately entwined with the issue before the COA Commission Proper and continuing with the hearings at the Sandiganbayan raises a “very real possibility” of conflicting resolutions.
The former vice president said that in the event that the COA-CP reverses the notices of disallowance issued by the audit team against the payments, this could affect the court’s appreciation of the evidence offered by prosecutors.
A similar position was adopted by defendants Mario Badillo, an engineer; and Efren Canlas, executive of private contractor Hilmarc’s Construction Company.
On the other hand, former Mayor Binay invoked his rights to speedy trial and to be fully apprised of the nature and cause of the accusations leveled against him.
The Sandiganbayan, however, ruled that all the issues cited by the accused do not constitute valid grounds for a suspension of the trial or dismissal of the charges.
“The Court finds the said argument devoid of merit. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction finds no application to these criminal cases. The pendency of the accused-movants’ appeal before the COA does not divest the Court of its jurisdiction to hear and try these criminal cases,” the Sandiganbayan said.
It clarified that the procedure before the COA is centered on determining the liability of public officials involved in the payment of the disallowed transactions.
It also said that, as held by the Supreme Court, even in instances when the public official’s account had passed audit, the latter may still be held criminally liable if there are pieces of evidence establishing the latter’s culpability.
The court likewise struck down a challenge by former city administrator Marjorie De Veyra to the admissibility of COA Fraud Audit Report NO. 2016-001 which she noted materialized only recently, long after the preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman has been completed.
It held that the decision of the prosecution to mark the said audit report as part of its exhibits is not a violation of due process and the objections against it are premature.
“Any objection to the documentary evidence of the prosecution may only be done once the said document is formally offered,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The cases involve allegations of corruption in the bidding for Phases 1 to 3 of the Makati City Hall Building II when the former vice president was still Makati City mayor and after he was succeeded by his son.
Prosecutors said there was a conspiracy among city officials and contractors in conducting a simulated public bidding for the three segments of the building project that had a reported tag price of P2.2 billion upon completion.
They said a rigged bidding was held to ensure that the favored bidder – Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation – will land the deal thereby denying the city government the opportunity to get the most advantageous offer.
Other than the Binays, Canlas, Badillo and De Veyra, also named co-defendants were legal officer Pio Kenneth Dasal; budget officer Lorenza Amores; city planning management executives Virginia Hernandez and Line Dela Peña; engineers Arnel Cadangan, and Emerito Magat; accountants Leonila Querijero and Cecilio Lim III; acting city accountant Raydes Pestaño; treasurer Nelia Barlis; general services department officer Norman Flores; and Bids and Awards Committee members Ulysses Orienza, Giovanni Condes, Rodel Nayve, and Manolito Uyaco.
In disposing of the younger Binay’s claim of forum-shopping and violation of his rights to speedy trial, the court reminded the accused that it has already ruled on the validity and sufficiency of the allegations in the information.
“The Supreme Court has consistently declared that the aforesaid right is deemed violated only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays,” the Sandiganbayan said.