May 24, 2018, 1:32 pm
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DBM exec facing raps for PDAF, Malampaya scams jumps bail

A RANKING official of the Department of Budget and Management who is facing more than 300 criminal charges in connection with multi-billion peso scams involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Malampaya Funds has refused to return to the country to face trial after being allowed to go to the United States last month.

The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has tagged DBM Undersecretary Mario Relampagos as a fugitive after his lawyers informed the court that he has gone in hiding in the US in violation of the conditions of his bail.

Defense lawyers Godofredo De Guzman, Arnold Caga, and Christopher John Lao said Relampagos told them that he can no longer “psychologically and emotionally bear” to return to face his cases as he has “lost all trust in the justice system.”

Relampagos has been charged with 97 counts each of graft and malversation of public funds over the alleged anomalous transfer and release of the P900 million proceeds of the Malampaya-Camago natural gas project in Palawan in 2009.

The rest of his cases are for similar offenses concerning allegations of irregularities in the processing of requests for release of PDAF or congressional pork barrel funds that were supposed to go to agricultural assistance and livelihood projects.

Prosecutors and state auditors said the money was diverted into bogus non-government organizations created by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and ended up in the pockets of lawmakers and their cohorts.

Among his co-accused are former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and several former congressmen and congresswomen implicated in the PDAF scam.

“Mr. Relampagos said that he does not have the resources anymore for bail and the concomitant legal expenses for all these cases. He and his family have already exhausted their financial resources and assistance,” the lawyers said.

Relampagos requested and was given permission to go to Washington DC at the Headquarters of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to attend the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management (ICGFM), an annual meeting of finance official of various governments and to visit his daughter and grandchildren in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Based on his itinerary submitted to the anti-graft court, Relampagos left on December 2, 2017 and was supposed to be back on New Year’s Day 2018. But he failed to return.

Instead, he called Atty. De Guzman the following day to say he has no intention of coming back.

Defense lawyers said they tried to reason with Relampagos, reminding him that his bail and travel bonds will be cancelled and forfeited by the courts, that an arrest warrant will be issued against him, and that he can be extradited back to the Philippines.

They added that they are still communicating with him and are still hopeful that they can convince him to return.

The Sandiganbayan, however, said that the defendant acted “in blatant contempt of this Court” and must face the consequences of his actions.

“Accused Relampagos’ intent to evade prosecution is unmistakable not only from his failure to return to the country as undertaken, but likewise from his communication to his counsel,” the court said.

It ordered the cancellation of Relampagos’ passport on the ground that he is now a fugitive from justice under RA 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996. It also ordered his cash and travel bonds forfeited in favor of the government and the issuance of a new arrest warrant against him.

Prosecutors were also directed to initiate extradition proceedings to ensure that he will be returned to the court by US authorities once he is rearrested.

The directives were issued by Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta, Zaldy V. Trespeses, and Bayani H. Jacinto.
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