Sandiganbayan suspends Aurora officials for graft

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    THE Sandiganbayan Sixth Division has suspended three officials of Aurora province, led by Provincial Administrator Simeon A. de Castro, based on a pending graft case.

    Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero penned the five-page resolution dated October 22, 2019 that overruled defendants’ argument objecting to the issuance of a preventive suspension against them.

    Also covered by the court order were Provincial General Services Officer and Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) chairman Ricardo Bautista, and Assistant Provincial Engineer and BAC member Benedicto Rojo.

    The court ruling, however, created some confusion as the dispositive portion included the “Provincial Governor” among those ordered suspended. Likewise, the name of executive assistant Isaias Noveras Jr. was mentioned.

    The incumbent Governor of Aurora is Gerardo Noveras, who is also an accused in the case together with Isaias Noveras, who holds the positions of executive assistant and BAC member.

    Sought for clarification, the Office of the Clerk of Court said neither Governor Noveras nor Isaias Noveras were included in the suspension order.

    Based on the information filed last year, the Office of the Ombudsman charged the defendants with conspiracy in giving unwarranted advantage to RMCR Construction.

    The construction firm was awarded the contract to repair the Dimalang Bridge Approach of Casiguran-Dilasag Road without going through a public bidding, a mandatory requirement under RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

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

    De Castro, Bautista, and Rojo tried to fight off suspension, saying its purpose of allowing the prosecution to conduct an unhampered investigation, preserve the evidence, and prevent harassment of witnesses are already moot.

    They pointed out that prosecutors already have all the evidence necessary for the trial and insisted that they do not have the power to interfere with the evidence as they are no high-ranking government officials.

    The Sandiganbayan, however, invoked the Supreme Court ruling in the 2009 case of Dela Cruz vs. Sandiganbayan which said the court has no discretion to determine whether preventive suspension is necessary since it becomes mandatory once the two conditions are satisfied: that the accused is an incumbent public official; and he is charged in a valid information involving a graft charge or an offense of fraud upon the government.

    “The conditions of preventive suspension have been satisfied and the Court is duty-bound to issue the order of suspension,” the Sixth Division said.