Strong evidence in fraud raps vs former top PCG officers

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    THE Sandiganbayan has declared that prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman have presented enough evidence to prove multiple counts of procurement fraud against seven former top officials of the Philippine Coast Guard.

    Second Division Associate Justices Lorifel Lacap Pahimna, Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Michael Frederick L. Musngi denied separate motions by the defendants seeking leave of court to file demurrer to evidence, a challenge to the sufficiency of evidence to prove allegations in the criminal charges.

    “The testimonial and documentary evidence presented by the prosecution, unless successfully rebutted by the accused, appear to be prima facie sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the anti-graft court declared.

    Accused in seven counts of violation of RA 9184 of the Government Procurement Reform Act are former PCG commandant Vice Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, Captain Joeven Fabul, and accounting head Rogelio Caguioa.

    Commander Joselito Quintas was charged with three counts of the same offense, Capt. Ramon Lopez with two counts, and commanders William Arquero, John Esplana, and Rommel Supangan with one count each.

    Based on the 2017 resolution of the Ombudsman recommending criminal indictment, a panel of corruption investigators found that the PCG officials engaged in contract-splitting or breaking up transactions into smaller values to go around the threshold amount that would require mandatory public bidding.

    The crime is punishable by imprisonment of six to 15 years under Section 65 (a.4) of RA 9184.

    Prosecutors said procurement of cellphone cards were transacted in numerous smaller purchases totaling P6.07 million while office supplies, cleaning materials, hardware, and groceries were obtained through four separate contracts of P1 million each.

    Records reviewed by investigators showed the transactions were approved either in daily basis or in close intervals which was taken as proof of contract splitting.

    In their motions, the defendants claimed the evidence presented during trial did not overcome presumption of innocence much less constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.

    Esplana, Arquero, and Supangan argued they were not in position to decide the mode of procurement. They also insisted that there was no proof of conspiracy among them and their co-accused.

    Prosecutors countered that in several instances, there were splitting of payments involving a single purchase request. They said the various levels of involvement by the defendants point to their “community of design.”