Ombudsman documents, including the information filed with the Sandiganbayan, have never said that former governor and now Rep. Rene Relampagos, Gov. Edgar Chatto and others in the joint venture (JV)case did pocket a single cent.
From the Ombudsman resolution that surprisingly reversed last year the earlier dismissal of the complaint to the information filed with the Sandiganbayan, nothing could be found there accusing or just even insinuating that the Bohol officials earned from the JV deal.
These were also asserted yesterday by lawyer Lord Marapao IV while clarifying that being accused of alleged graft does not necessarily mean that the subject officials did receive something out of the transaction.
Ombudsman documents do not say that the officials stole either, said Marapao who acts as the legal spokesperson for Relampagos and Chatto.
He stressed that there is nothing in the Ombudsman information charge before the Sandiganbayan that indicates any accusation or finding that Relampagos and Chatto gained from the JV negotiation.
The only issue involved is whether or not the JV contract is manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government, Marapao said.
The Sandiganbayanâ€s First Division is now handling the case after the information was raffled on Friday.
Marapao said an omnibus motion has been filed for judicial determination of probable cause, to quash the information and withhold the issuance of warrant of arrest.
Its finding of a probable cause is only an opinion of the Ombudsman, which is a prosecution arm and not a court, he said.
To many Boholanos, the case has proved that even public officials of best intention for their constituents as what Relampagos and Chatto did for water and power development via joint venture may still be regrettably charged with such alleged offense.
While they perfectly disagree to the allegation, Marapao said there is valid ground to question the act of the Ombudsman and, with a strong defense, the case should proceed with the trial of its merits so that it can be resolved with finality.
The complaint had long been dismissed by the Regional Trial Court and the Ombudsman itself, in a resolution in 2008, until the latterâ€™s dismissal was suddenly reversed last year even without any motion for reconsideration or request and order to review.
As there has never been any finding by the Ombudsman that the accused pursed in even a single centavo and the information it filed with the Sandiganbayan did not allege of the same, this particular offense is one of those consideredÂ â€œmalum in seâ€Â or â€œwrong by itself,â€ the lawyer said.
Marapao said it is only by virtue of a provision of the law that the alleged act is considered prohibited—as simply told in the doctrine ofÂ â€œmalum prohibitumâ€Â or â€œwrong because it is prohibited by law.â€
Again, it does not mean that they pocketed out of the JV just because they are charged, he further emphasized.
Marapao said they just await whatever order or resolution the Sandiganbayan may render on the matter brought before it.
The JV contract has been assailed for being disadvantageous to the government because the power and water utilities were allegedly â€œundervalued.â€
As wrongly claimed by the complainants, the two systems had a combined value of P782 million at the time of the joint venture transaction when Relampagos was then the governor and Chatto the vice governor.
But as certified by the Provincial Accountantâ€™s Office (PACCO) and per Commission on Audit (COA) Audit Report, the value of all the assets of the provincial government was only P628 million as of December 31, 1999.
These assets already included the power and water utilities, plus the 10 devolved hospitals, provincial capitol complex and its annex buildings, among others.
According to an expert, the Asian Appraisal, the market value of the two utilities at that time was only P135 million while their future value when operated as a joint venture between the province and the private investor was projected at P647.5 million.
Summed up, the two above-quoted figures amount to P782 million and were made by the complainants to appear to be the â€œactualâ€ value of the two utilities at the time of the joint venture agreement.
The projected value, the Asian Appraisal clarified, is merely the â€œpotential net present valueâ€ if the joint venture partners will infuse additional funds to pay off the companiesâ€™ existing debts and acquire additional assets.
There are unique legal intramurals in the joint venture (JV) case worth learning by the Boholanos, according to Chatto.
This observation is topped by the fact that while his and fellow respondentsâ€™ appeal has not been resolved by the Ombudsman, the latter indicted them in an information to Sandiganbayan.
Provincial Legal Officer Mitchell John Boiser affirmed that the motion for reconsideration filed by Chatto and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) members has remained pending with the Ombudsman.
To recall, Chatto, Vice Gov. Concepcion Lim and incumbent and former SP members involved in the case filed their appeal separate from those of Relampagos and Salcon executive Dennis Villareal.
The Ombudsman then issued a resolution but only on the reconsideration motion, which the anti-graft body denied, of Relampagos and Villareal.
The congressman even has a pending certiorari petition with the Supreme Court (SC), but the Ombudsman at the same time haled them to Sandiganbayan.
Their lawyers said it is, therefore, very surprising for Chatto and the respondent SP members SP member that an information was filed at Sandiganbayan without their pending motion resolved first by the Ombudsman.
Being a lawyer himself, Chatto has been unfazed by this recent development.
But he called it â€œa learning experience for all Boholanos on unique legal intramurals.â€
For what more reasons, people in the legal circle have themselves observed that, first, the case was re-opened after six years from 2008, when it was dismissed by the Ombudsman, even without a motion filed by any party.
Second, the long period of 14 years to terminate the preliminary investigation of the case from the time of its filing in 2000 has constituted an inordinate delay as it has violated the constitutional right of the accused to due process.
Third, surprisingly, the Ombudsman information was approved just last October 21, filed before the Sandiganbayan on October 23 and published with photograph of the document in a local newspaper on October 25.
Likewise, it may be recalled that the Ombudsman issued separate clearances to Chatto, dated October 2, 2013, and former Board Member Felix R. Uy, dated July 22, 2009, indicating â€œNO PENDING CRIMINAL and ADMINISTRATIVE CASEâ€ against them.
Chatto was then the vice governor and SP presiding officer at that time of the creation of the joint venture, a water and power development project that has since dramatically solved the aged grave water and power problems in Tagbilaran City, Boholâ€™s capital.
The SP, as a collegial body, exercised due diligence in evaluating the proposal of the joint venture agreement and considered what could be the best for Bohol.
In fact, public hearings and consultations were conducted to allow maximum public participation in the process of the creation of what has also since been praised as a model local public-private partnership in the country.Â Â (Ven rebo Arigo)