Former Bohol Island State University (BISU) President, Elpidio Tagaan Magante was let off the hook by the Supreme Court (SC) Third Division because the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) took too long a time or “inordinate delay” to prosecute corruption charges filed by the Commission on Audit (COA) which is a violation of his constitutional right to the speedy disposition of his case.
The High Court determined the extent of the delay with the preliminary investigation that lasted about 5 years and 3 months (January 7, 2011 – April 15, 2016) from the date of the filing of the formal complaint.
It also took the OMB 5 years and 2 months from February 15, 2011, when Magante was ordered to file his counter-affidavit, according to the SC.
The SC said that the “duration of the preliminary investigation is excessive,” despite the OMB’s reason that there were 10 respondents in the complaint, the records of the case were voluminous and the proceedings were not “vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays.”
According to the decision, the “constitutional command” contained in Article XI, Section 12 of the 1987 Constitution and Republic Act No. 6770 known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989 expressly binds the OMB that as protectors of the people, cases lodged before it should be acted promptly and resolved with dispatch.
Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Chairperson of the Third Division, portrayed the length of time for the Ombudsman to file the case “like the proverbial sharp sword of Damocles, the protracted pendency of a case hangs overhead by the slenderest single thread.”
DISMISSED AND REVERSED
The twenty-one- page decision promulgated on July 23, 2018, dismissed the criminal case against Magante for violation of RA 9184 known as the Government Procurement Reform Act and Falsification of Public Documents before the Sandiganbayan.
The SC also reversed and set aside Sandiganbayan Third Division’s resolutions denying Magante’s motion to dismiss and a subsequent motion for reconsideration (MR) for grave abuse of discretion.
Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the filing on April 15, 2016, after finding probable cause to file criminal charges against Magante, Ambrosio Orillos, Dean of the College of Industrial Technology (CIT), Professor Lorenzo Sarigumba, Director of Sports and Cultural Affairs and Alan Jaum, Instructor 1.
The four BISU officials including a private respondent, Rochelle Cababan, Manager of RDAK Transport Equipment, Inc., Mabolo, Cebu City were found criminally liable by the Ombudsman for the splitting of contracts, a violation of RA 9184 and Falsification of Public Documents.
The Ombudsman also imposed the penalty of dismissal from government service against the four BISU officials including forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding public office, cancellation of eligibility and were barred from taking the civil service examinations.
Sarigumba passed away during the pendency of the case, Jaum is reportedly abroad, Orillos and Cababan sought the assistance of separate lawyers while Magante was represented by Atty. Roland Inting and Atty. Eusebio Avila of the Avila Tamayo Law Office.
The outcome of the cases of Orillos, Jaum, and Cababan are still being verified by the Chronicle.
The complaint against five other BISU officials – Ernesto Rulida, Campus Director, Calape Campus, Trinidad Castolo, Administrative Officer lV (Budget Officer-designate), Raymundo Aparre, Administrative Officer 1 (Supply Officer), Ma. Agnes Candug, Administrative Assistant lll (Accounting Officer) and Gaudisio Renegado, Jr., Administrative Aide lll (Storekeeper) were dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.
The complaint against the nine BISU officials was lodged before the Ombudsman by Delfin Aguilar, Regional Director of the Commission on Audit (COA) 7 based on an audit report on April 21, 2009, of COA State Auditor 1 Rogelio Palaca.
The complaint arose from a scheme allegedly hatched by Magante, Sarigumba, and Orillos, to purchase motor vehicle spare parts to be assembled as a mini dump truck amounting to P402,800.00.
The need for a mini dump truck was to address the garbage problem of BISU and the purchase of the spare parts was to save funds since the College of Industrial Technology under Orillos had the skills, training, and equipment to assemble a mini dump truck.
Magante and Orillos justified the transactions as a cost-saving program included in the 2008 Annual Procurement Plan split into phase 1 for the acquisition of a 4BEI engine, front cab assy w/ complete accessories and dump box w/ hydraulic cylinder while phase ll was for the procurement of frame with complete running gear/under chassis.
The audit report of Palaca unearthed two disbursement vouchers amounting to P221,956.50 on July 7, 2008, and P180,843.50 on September 2, 2008 “apparently for spare parts for assembling a mini dump truck but were actually payments for one unit mini dump truck”.
The spare parts were found to be “ghost deliveries” since according to the Ombudsman decision and resolution there was no delivery of the spare parts “in truth and in fact since one unit mini dump truck was delivered . . .”
In both deliveries, Sarigumba told the Ombudsman that “he inspected and found the goods delivered by RDAK in order and regular according to the Purchase Orders” as gleaned by the signed Inspection and Acceptance Report (IAR) on June 2, 2008, and August 7, 2008.
Accounting Officer Ma. Agnes Candug pointed at Orillos, Magante and Professor Fernando Restificar, BISU Main Campus Administrator as those who hatched the scheme to purchase the whole unit of motor vehicles through the “appearance of chop chop”.
Restificar was not included in the complaint filed by the Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (PACPO).
The Ombudsman also accused RDAK Manager Cababan of allegedly delivering the assailed spare parts and accepting checks supposedly for payments of the motor vehicle parts “when in truth and in fact, there was none since one unit mini dump truck was actually delivered”.
The Ombudsman concluded that Magante, Orillos, Sarigumba, and Jaum conspired to cheat, deceive or defraud the government for “making it appear that motor vehicle parts for assembling a mini dump truck were procured, delivered and paid when in fact, one unit mini dump truck was actually procured, delivered and paid.”
The SC concluded that it is not for Magante to ensure that the wheels of justice continue to turn but rather it is the state to guarantee that the case is disposed within a reasonable period. (Chito M. Visarra)