Ombudsman recalls graft indictment vs former PPA top officials

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    FORMER Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) general manager Juan Sta. Ana and assistant general manager for operations Raul Santos have been cleared of any criminal liability by the Office of the Ombudsman over the alleged questionable renewal of a private port permit in favor of DMCI Mining Corp. six years ago.

    In a 16-page resolution, the Ombudsman reversed its own ruling dated November 28, 2017 that found probable cause against the two respondents and ordered the filing of a criminal case against them with the Sandiganbayan for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019).

    Ombudsman Samuel Martires reversed the 2017 resolution approved by his predecessor, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and cited insufficiency of evidence to justify his decision.

    While acknowledging that the 2017 resolution have already “attained finality,” Martires said the Ombudsman is authorized under section 15 of its charter to conduct a motu proprio reinvestigation “to assure that the guilty do not go unpunished.”

    The cases stemmed from a complaint filed on June 1, 2016 by former AGHAM Party-List Rep. Angelo B. Palmones who questioned the PPA’s approval of a beaching permit, a temporary operating permit, and a permit to construct loading pier requested by DMCI Holdings Inc. as well as several three-month long extensions/renewals in 2011 and 2012.

    Palmones said the permits had a precondition that the port operation should be in a foreshore area directly abutting the lot owned by the permit applicant whereas the area used by DMCHI and DMCI Mining Corp. has no foreshore lot.

    Instead, he claimed that the port cut through a natural a land formation which violated the law.

    In addition, he noted that the mining firm has not been issued a foreshore lease by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

    Upon review of the case, Martires ruled that the automatic renewal process of the PPA is a policy aimed at easing up procedures in doing business and ensure competitiveness in the delivery of port services.

    “The evidence on record … do not demonstrate that respondents Santos and Sta. Ana acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence,” the Ombudsman declared.

    As proof of PPA’s impartiality, Martires noted that from 2012 to 2014, several mining firms also obtained five-year renewable ports permits.

    “This is a clear indication that the said renewable permit granted DMCIC was not a special privilege that was solely granted to the said corporation but was in fact granted to several applicants of foreshore lease contracts,” the Ombudsman said.

    Former Ombudsman Morales approved the 2017 indictment on January 5, 2018 noting that there were clear violations of PPA rules as the port permit was renewed on the basis only of the miscellaneous lease application and payment of occupancy fees.