Sandiganbayan forfeits ill-gotten wealth of former DPWH director

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    THE Sandiganbayan has ordered the forfeiture of a residential property owned by former Department of Public Works and Highways-Region IV director Romeo G. Panganiban, declaring the asset was part of his ill-gotten wealth.

    In a 37-page decision penned by Associate Justice Lorifel Lacap Pahimna, the anti-graft court’s Second Division said prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman were able to establish that the real estate asset located in Grand Sacay Villas in Batong Malake, Los Baños, Laguna was not declared in Panganiban’s 1994 statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) even if it was titled to him and his wife.

    Associate Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Michael Frederick L. Musngi concurred.

    “The plaintiff Republic has preponderantly presented proofs that indicated that the Los Baños property was indeed an ill-gotten wealth of Romeo Panganiban,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    However, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show that two other properties – a residential lot in Santa Cruz, Laguna and half of a three-bedroom house and lot in Pasadena, Los Angeles, California – also form part of the Panganibans’ unlawfully acquired assets.

    The case, filed in 2004, named Panganiban as a defendant together with his wife and children in an unexplained wealth case amounting to P40.766 million.

    Panganiban was in government service from 1986 to 2001.

    On August 28, 2008, Panganiban was convicted of perjury by the Fourth Division for undeclared real estate assets and investments totaling P51 million.

    In the said ruling, the court said that Panganiban misrepresented his real net worth in his 2001 SALN as evidence presented by Prosecutor Janet Leah Ramos clearly established his ownership.

    In his SALN, Panganiban declared total assets of P19.75 million but the prosecution said he owned other residential properties in Muntinlupa City; Sta. Cruz, Laguna; and in Pasadena, Los Angeles, California.

    In the January 14, 2020 decision, the Second Division noted that Panganiban was able to prove that he won a P250,000 prize from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office on May 23, 1982, part of which he used to acquire the 200-square meter lot in Santa Cruz, Laguna.

    As for the California property, the court noted that the Supreme Court had already dismissed a separate petition to forfeit one-half of the same house and lot in a 2018 ruling.

    “After a careful examination of the testimonial and documentary evidence presented…there is nothing that would show how Panganiban acquired the Los Angeles property through illegal use of government funds,” the court said.

    However, the court sustained the government evidence on the Los Baños property noting that at the time of Panganiban’s acquisition in 1994, the P1.5 million purchase price was “patently disproportionate to his salary as a public officer” even including other income from his family’s businesses.

    The court also noted that the defendant failed to disclose ownership of the same property in his 1994 SALN.