Nueva Ecija gov walks on graft, malversation raps

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    THE Sandiganbayan Second Division has dismissed multiple graft and malversation charges against Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio M. Umali concerning alleged misuse of P15 million government funds that went to dubious non-government organizations when he was a congressman in 2005.

    Citing inordinate delay on the part of the Office of the Ombudsman that violated Umali’s right to speedy disposition of cases, the anti-graft court said it found merit in the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

    “The Office of the Ombudsman transgressed the right of accused Umali to the speedy disposition of his cases. Accordingly, the dismissal of the criminal cases insofar as accused Umali is concerned is warranted,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    Umali was charged with four counts of graft and three counts of malversation of public funds together with Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit 3 (DA-RFU 3) acting regional director Renato Manantan and DA-RFU 3 accountant Narcisoa Maningding over alleged unlawful diversion of government funds to non-government organizations (NGOs), including those connected to plunder convict Janet Lim Napoles.

    DA-RFU junior accountant Renato Manalansan was named in one count of graft.

    Charged as private defendants were Anita Tansipek (three counts each of graft and malversation), Corazon Bautista (three graft, three malversation), Evelyn de Leon (one graft), and Janet Napoles (one graft).

    Cases against Umali’s co-accused will remain as the court denied their separate motions to remand the case for another investigation or to quash the information.

    Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna penned the 25-page resolution with Associate Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Michael Frederick Musngi concurring.

    Tansipek was identified as the president of the Samahan ng mga Manininda ng Prutas sa Gabi Inc. (SMPGI) while Bautista is a collector.

    Napoles was tagged as the owner of NGO Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI) while De Leon is the president of Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc. (PSDFI), another Napoles NGO.

    Prosecutors said P3 million was funneled into SMPGI in three separate transactions in December 2005 while Umali’s P12 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was broken down into four checks of P1.8 million, P4.2 million, P2 million, and P4 million, all of which eventually went to Napoles’ MAMFI.

    Investigators said all the farm assistance projects supposedly implemented by the said NGOs “turned out to be non-existent.”

    Neither the prosecution nor Umali’s lawyers got the chance to present evidence as the cases did not even reach the trial stage.

    The court noted that the Ombudsman took more than 10 years to wrap up its investigation from the time the original complaint was filed in 2008 until seven criminal information were filed with the Sandiganbayan on April 26, 2019.

    According to the court, 10 years is “beyond the reasonable period of preliminary investigation” but the prosecution failed to provide any justification.

    “The guarantee of speedy disposition would be defeated or rendered inutile if the Court shall countenance inordinate delay in the resolution of the case against Umali,” the Second Division said.