TWO high-ranking police officers and a civilian owner of a private diagnostic laboratory have decided to plead guilty to lesser offenses to avoid facing trial on multiple graft charges.
Accused Police Col. Elizabeth A. Milanes, Police Lt. Col. Digna Olivares-Ambas, and private defendant Edgar D. Indiongco, owner of E. Indiongco Diagnostic Laboratory entered into a plea bargain deal with the Office of the Ombudsman resulting in the downgrading of the criminal charges against them.
All three were accused of four counts of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in connection to alleged collection of medical exam fees from PNP recruits without issuing official receipts even if the operation reportedly grossed P1.868 million from November to December 2010.
Instead of presenting evidence during trial, the accused withdrew their original “Not Guilty” pleas to the graft charges and offered to plead guilty to the lower offense of violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713) which penalizes unlawful financial interest of a public official in a transaction requiring approval of his office.
Because of the plea bargain, the defendants were merely ordered to pay fines of P5,000 for each case or a total of P20,000 per accused as a substitute for risking a possible graft conviction, which is punishable by at least six years imprisonment for each count.
“Wherefore, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused …guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the lesser offense of violation of section 7 (a) of RA 6713,” the Sandiganbayan ruled.
The medical test scam was uncovered after several lower-ranked PNP officers complained that they are being made to pay for laboratory tests at the PNP Regional Health Service 3 (RHS3) in Camp Olivas, Pampanga but the private diagnostic clinic refused to issue receipts.
Several applicants who were disqualified were likewise refused access to their medical results despite contrary findings from government and private hospitals that they were physically fit to undergo the required training.
Graft investigators also determined that E. Indiongco Diagnostic Laboratory was engaged in business without undergoing the required processes of procurement and used 10 square meters of the PNP RHS3 premises without paying a centavo as rent.
Worse, it was discovered that there were no licensed medical personnel who supervised the medical screening that were conducted by nursing students.
Former PNP Regional Office 3 director Manuel Lukban Jr. as well as nine police trainees testified for the prosecution during the trial, building up a strong case against the three accused.
The defendants tried to get the charges dismissed claiming the prosecution case was weak, but in a resolution issued on March 4, 2019, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division affirmed the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence to sustain all allegations in the four counts of graft filed against them.
Their appeals were also overruled by the anti-graft court on April 11, 2019.
Milanes, Ambas and Indiongco were then ordered to present their evidence to disprove the charges of corruption.