Ombudsman withdraws charges vs PCG men in P67-M graft case

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman withdrew the charges against 25 former Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officials, including former chiefs Rodolfo Isorena and William Melad, over a P67.5-million graft case.

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan 4th Division approved the withdrawal and officially dismissed the charges against the PCG officials in a resolution promulgated September 6.

According to the Sandiganbayan's resolution, the Office of the Ombudsman decided to withdraw the charges on May 20 because the Court of Appeals (CA) earlier cleared some of the accused in their twin administrative charges.

The Ombudsman first decides on the administrative guilt of the defendants, over which it either suspends or dismisses them, and then files the accompanying criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan.

On March 15 this year, the CA's former 10th division reversed the dismissal of Commander Ivan Roldan, finding his explanation justifiable.

The case involves the alleged irregular purchase of office supplies and equipment worth P67.5 million in 2014.

Roldan said the supplies and equipment were bought with cash advances without competitive public bidding because it was an emergency purchase. Roldan said the PCG was faced with the crisis of a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea at the time and that to go through bidding would delay the purchase and disrupt operations.

Retired ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found them liable because "the respondents resorted to the nefarious practice of splitting the purchases into several transactions to avoid public bidding."

The CA, however, held this view: "No form of mental dishonesty could be attributed to Cdr Roldan when he certified that the Special Cash Advances were used to defray miscellaneous expenses and that the items purchased were absolutely indispensable and urgent such that their procurement by competitive bidding would have been detrimental to public service."

No admin case, no criminal case

Quoting the Ombudsman' resolution to withdraw, the Sandiganbayan said: "The exoneration of some of the accused herein in the administrative cases filed before the Court of Appeals...necessitated a reconsideration of its earlier determination of probable cause and that after a reexamination of the facts and evidence, it came to the conclusion that it cannot effectively prosecute the said cases in the absence of sufficient evidence on record to convict the accused."

The Sandiganbayan also defended its action to approve the withdrawal, citing a Supreme Court case that says it is a "futile and useless exercise" to proceed with a criminal trial if the administrative charges have already been dismissed.

"Applying the foregoing jurisprudence to the present criminal cases which were founded on the same set of facts and evidence as in the dismissed administrative cases and considering the Court's finding of absence of sufficient evidence on record that would engender a well-founded belief that the accused are probably guilty of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, the Court resolves to grant the withdrawal of the Informations and Amended Informations prayed for by the prosecution," said Associate Justices Alex Quiroz, Bayani Jacinto, and Lorifel Pahimna.

The following were cleared along with Melad, Isorena, and Roldan:

Messy finances

The P67.5 million graft case is among the controversies that had hounded the PCG in recent years.  Some PCG men had been suspended for other cases of irregularities of cash advances, involving alleged spurious and fake receipts.

In 2017, the PCG was among only 5 agencies that were flagged for fake transactions. Such transactions involved liquidation of cash advances which were disowned by suppliers or contractors. (READ: Corruption Red Flags: Fake transactions, doubtful accounts government spending)

For 2018, the PCG was called out by the Commission on Audit for messy finances worth billions of pesos. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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