February 20, 2018, 12:10 pm
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Arroyo officials, Napoles face raps in Malampaya fund mess

THE Office of the Ombudsman has filed 97 counts each of graft and malversation of public funds against two former Arroyo Cabinet officials, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, and 22 other individuals before the Sandiganbayan over the alleged misuse of P900 million of Malampaya fund in 2009.

Two indictments for plunder originally recommended in a 134-page joint resolution issued in December 2016 were, however, dropped on a motion for reconsideration filed by the respondents.

Named in the 194 cases were Department of Budget and Management (DBM) officials former Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. and Undersecretary Mario Relampagos; and former Department Agrarian Reform (DAR) officials Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Undersecretary Narciso Nieto, DAR Finance and Management Service director Teresita Panlilio, former chief accountant Angelita Cacananta, and chief administrative officer Ronald Venancio.

Included as private defendants were Napoles and her children Jo Christine and James Christopher; former Candaba, Pampanga mayor Rene Maglanque, Reynald Lim, Evelyn de leon, Ronald Francisco Lim, Ronald John Bernardo Lim, John Raymund de Asis, Rodrigo Galay, Alejandro Garro, Paquito Dinso Jr., Gerald Apuang, Napoleon Sibayan and Winnie Villanueva.

Ruby Tuason, who turned state witness in the multi-billion pesos Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, was among those also charged after the Ombudsman turned down her request for immunity due to her inability to convince prosecutors that she could offer an indispensable testimony to help the government case.

In a reaction sent to reporters, Andaya, now a congressman of Camarines Sur, said he is prepared to refute all charges.

“I welcome the filing of the case, confident that at the end, when my side will be fully heard and the evidence I submit will be appreciated, truth will prevail and I shall be acquitted of the charges against me,” the lawmaker said.

He likewise pointed out that the dropping of the plunder charges is a point in his favor because it tended to show that much of the allegations against him were baseless.

“I have full faith in our justice system even as I wish that the case will proceed in a fair and fast manner. Let me note that the charges have been degraded from plunder to malversation, which means that the original indictment actively sought has been debunked,” Andaya added.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor recommended that bail bonds for each count of malversation of public fund thru falsification of public documents be set at P200,000 each or a total of P19.4 million.

On the other hand, the amount of P30,000 was recommended as bail for each count of graft or a total of P2.91 million.

Combined, bail bond for each accused will reach P22.31 million although they are expected to seek reduction of bail because of the huge sum recommended by the prosecution.

Rules on criminal trial allow a reduction of bail to an amount that a defendant can afford so as not to deny him his constitutional right to bail.

Records show that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Executive Order 848 on October 13, 2009 authorizing the DBM to release Malampala funds to the DAR as implementing agency for “relief operations, rehabilitation, and reconstruction” of areas affected by tropical storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng.

Arroyo was named a respondent in the complaints but was not indicted.

Based on the   authority from the Office of the President, the DBM released P900 million to the DAR citing 97 purported letter-requests made by the mayors of various local government units seeking funding assistance for their constituents.

According to a special team dispatched by the Commission on Audit however, the money was instead funneled into several non-government organizations (NGOs) controlled by Napoles. 
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