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Sandigan affirms trial of 194 Malampaya cases
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Sandigan affirms trial of 194 Malampaya cases

MANILA, Philippines, May 15 ------ Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has upheld its earlier ruling to proceed with the formal trial of 194 criminal cases in connection with the alleged misuse of the government’s P900-million proceeds from the Malampaya natural gas project. In a resolution promulgated on May 10, the court’s Third Division denied the motion for reconsideration of the primary accused, incumbent Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., seeking the reversal of its March 6 ruling denying the lawmaker’s motion to quash the cases.

The Third Division said that aside from Andaya’s failure to file his appeal on time, there was also no new argument raised by the lawmaker that would warrant the reversal of the earlier ruling. The court maintained that the case information sheets were sufficient in form and substance, contrary to Andaya’s claim that they were “fatally defective” as the prosecution supposedly failed to specify how he committed the alleged crimes and how he supposedly conspired with his co-accused.

“Going now to the issue of sufficiency of form, a plain reading of the present (case) information will show that the acts and/or omissions complained of are alleged in plain, ordinary and concise language,” the Third Division’s new resolution read. “In fact, the specific participation of all the accused in the alleged Malampaya fund scam are outlined in detail in each of the information in these cases,” it added.

Andaya and his co-accused are each facing 97 counts of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and another 97 counts of the complex crime of malversation of public funds through falsification of public documents under the Revised Penal Code. Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in December 2017, the cases stemmed from the alleged misuse of P900 million worth of government income from the Malampaya natural gas project intended for farmers affected by Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng which hit the country in late 2009.

Andaya is accused of conspiring with other government officials in allegedly funneling the P900-million fund to bogus non-government organizations owned by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains of the equally controversial pork barrel fund scam. The ombudsman said the allocation to the Napoles-linked NGOs was for supposed livelihood projects which turned out to be “ghosts” or were never implemented.

The ombudsman said Andaya approved the release of the fund by signing a special allotment release order (SARO) and a notice of cash allowance (NCA) despite the absence of clear basis and supporting documents. In his motion for reconsideration, Andaya said that aside from the prosecution’s failure to elaborate on his participation in the alleged crimes, it also failed to specify in the charge sheets the supposed undue injury that he caused to the government.

The Third Division, however, said “the proof of undue injury need not be specified, quantified and proven to the point of moral certainty at the time of the filing of the (case) information” but during the trial proper. It added that as held by the Supreme Court in a previous ruling (Bautista vs. Court of Appeals), the charge sheets need only to state the “ultimate facts” or those facts which are expected to be supported with evidence during the formal trial and not the finer details of why and how the alleged crime was committed. “The issue on whether he may be convicted of the said crime is a matter which is best left to the determination of the court after the presentation of evidence of the parties,” the Third Division said. “To repeat, it is jurisprudentially settled that an information should only state the ultimate facts or those facts which the expected evidence will support,” it added.

Napoles, her children Jo Christine and James Christopher as well as her brothers Reynaldo Lim and Ronald Francisco Lim, who are all co-accused in the cases, earlier entered “not guilty” pleas. The other co-accused, namely former Department of Agrarian Reform secretary and incumbent Masiu, Lanao del Sur Mayor Nasser Pangandaman Jr., former DAR undersecretary Narciso Nieto, former DAR director Teresita Panlilio and former DAR chief accountant Angelita Cacananta, also pleaded “not guilty.” Andaya’s scheduled arraignment was deferred last April 22 as the Third Division had yet to resolve at the time his appeal to quash the cases. His arraignment was reset to May 31.