Sandiganbayan affirms acquittal of ex-LRT execs in janitor contracts case

MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman prosecutors lost their appeal as the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan upheld its earlier acquittal of former Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) administrator Melquiades Robles and 12 others in a graft case involving a maintenance contract for janitors of the LRT.

"The motion for reconsideration is devoid of merit. The court notes that the instant motion does not allege any abuse of discretion committed in resolving the demurrers," the Sandiganbayan 5th Division said in a decision dated January 27, junking the motion for reconsideration of the Ombudsman.

The Sandiganbayan earlier acquitted Robles and the others by granting their demurrers to evidence, which means the former officials did not have to present their own evidence.

A demurrer to evidence is a pleading filed by defendants after the prosecution is done presenting its evidence, telling the court that prosecutors' evidence is weak enough to junk the case.

Robles, department managers Federico Canar Jr, Marilou Liscano, Elmo Stephen Triste, and Nicholas Ombao; division managers Dennis Francisco, Evelyn Macalino, Eduardo Abiva, Maynard Tolosa, and Juliet Labisto; and procurement services chief Roger Vaño were acquitted.

They were charged with graft for a 2009 maintenance contract of the LRTA with COMM Builders and Technology Philippines Corporation, PMP Incorporated, and Gradski Soabracaj GRAS.

According to the Ombudsman, the maintenance contract provided that 793 workers and janitors would be deployed to all stations of LRT Line 1.

But the Ombudsman said only 209 personnel were deployed. Despite that, Ombudsman prosecutors said the contractor was still paid P400.6 million.

The Sandiganbayan scolded Ombudsman prosecutors because according to the court, there was no evidence that would show the contract provided there would be 321 janitors as the prosecution claimed.

The court also said Ombudsman prosecutors did not present evidence that the government suffered undue injury over the alleged overpayment to the contractor.

"The prosecution's own evidence showed different figures, mainly because there were two sets of computations made by the Ombudsman investigators, not one of which was produced during the trial," the Sandiganbayan said.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, with concurrences from Associate Justices Maria Theresa Mendoza Arcega and Maryann Corpus Mañalac. – Rappler.com