Sandiganbayan asked: Send Lañete back to jail over P76M kickbacks

MANILA, Philippines – Masbate Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lañete should not have been granted bail because there is enough evidence to convict her in the plunder case against her, the Ombudsman's Office of the Special Prosecutor said on Thursday, April 28. 

In questioning the grant of bail by the Sandiganbayan's 4th Division, the Office of the Special Prosecutor said the anti-graft court should not have excluded a total of P34.88 million from the P76.078 million worth of kickbacks that Lañete allegedly received for channeling her pork barrel funds to fake non-governmental organizations controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.

The P76.078 million amount, recorded in the records of Napoles' former assistant Benhur Luy, is above the P50 million minimum amount needed to charge Lañete with plunder, which is typically a non-bailable offense.

The Masbate governor was freed on bail on April 13. She is accused of misusing P112.29 million of her pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009.

"The Sandiganbayan 4th Division should reconsider its decision to grant bail to Masbate Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lañete because there is sufficient evidence to convict her. The Office of the Special Prosecutor stands firm that Governor Lañete should be sent back to her detention cell," a statement from the Ombudsman read.

In its resolution to grant bail, the Sandiganbayan excluded 19 items totalling P14.41 million because these were not marked by the prosecution for inclusion as evidence. 

But in a motion for reconsideration filed Thursday, the Ombudsman said that these items were constituent parts of documents that had already been marked and admitted to the court as evidence.

"Submarking to emphasize an item in an already marked document may be done, but it is up to the proponent’s discretion," it said.

It added that two more exclusions had been identified by prosecutors as "rebates" paid to the Masbate governor in advance of the release of her 2007 to 2010 pork barrel.

Re-examine evidence

The Office of the Special Prosecutor also asked the court to re-examine 2,388 pages of transcripts and 5,614 exhibits to "properly evaluate the strength of evidence" against Lañete and Napoles in the plunder cases against them.

It also pointed out that contrary to the court's contention that Lañete's signature may have been forged, the prosecution asserted that the Masbate governor did not deny her signatures in the documents when given the opportunity to present proof against the prosecution's witnesses.

On the court's conclusion that the evidence of guilt of Lañete and Napoles is not strong because the two accused have never met, the prosecution said it was "unreasonable" to expect them to be seen in public "and risk revealing evidence of illegal activity." 

The prosecution added that the findings of the Commission on Audit, testimonies from local officials, and on-site verification also backed up their claim on the non-existent projects funded by Lañete's pork barrel through Napoles' fake NGOs. – Rappler.com