Sandiganbayan suspends Aurora Gov. Noveras

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    THE Sandiganbayan Sixth Division has suspended Aurora Gov. Gerardo A. Noveras and provincial budget officer Paz Torregosa based on a pending graft case filed last year by the Office of the Ombudsman.

    The suspension order came a week after the same division issued an amended resolution dated November 21, 2019 also suspending executive assistant and Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) member Isaias Noveras Jr., provincial administrator Simeon de Castro, provincial general services officer Ricardo Bautista, and assistant provincial engineer and BAC member Benedicto Rojo.

    All suspended Aurora officials were named in the case for violation of section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for alleged irregularities in a public works project.

    Prosecutors said the provincial officials gave unwarranted advantage to RMCR Construction by awarding it the contract to repair the Dimalang bridge approach of Casiguran-Dilasag Road without conducting the required public bidding.

    Named private defendant was Manding Claro R. Ramos, who represented contractor RMCR Construction.

    Graft investigators found the project’s timetable suspicious, noting that it was declared “almost completed” even while the procurement process was still ongoing. Records showed the Notice to Proceed was issued to the contractor on August 15, 2017 but the project was declared “100% completed” just three days after.

    Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved the filing of the case with the Sandiganbayan on October 2, 2018.

    Gov. Noveras tried to contest the suspension by arguing that the information was defective for failure of the prosecution to specify the supposed injury to the government and that there is no longer any need to suspend him to bar him from tampering with evidence or influencing potential witnesses as all documentary exhibits are already part of public record.

    He likewise pointed out that that despite knowing that he is facing a criminal case, the voters still chose him to be provincial governor so placing him under preventive suspension will only interfere with “the will of the electorate.”

    The court was unimpressed.

    “The rehashed argument that the subject information is invalid and as such accused Noveras and Torregosa should not be preventively suspended is untenable. The validity and sufficiency of the information … has long been passed upon and settled by this Court,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    At the same time, it dismissed as an invalid argument to challenge the suspension the defendants’ contention that they are no longer in position to frustrate their prosecution.

    It stressed that there are only two conditions that must be satisfied to warrant the issuance of a preventive suspension: that the accused must be an incumbent public official; and that the criminal information is valid.