Unlike his co-accused who filed their bail bond for their temporary liberty, 1st District Congressman Rene Relampagos instead opted to exhaust all legal remedies by filing an omnibus motion with the Sandiganbayan.
The 31 page omnibus resolution also prayed to withhold issuance of the warrant of arrest or the immediate recall if one has been issued pending resolution of the omnibus motion.
The anti-graft court 1st Division gave due course to Relampagos omnibus motion to “dismiss based on lack of probable cause and/or to quash the information for violation of accused’s right to speedy disposition of cases”.
Relampagos filed the omnibus motion shortly after Criminal Case No. SB 15-0283 was raffled on October 30, 2015 to the 1st Division, according to Atty. Lord “Popot” Marapao, IV, legal spokesman for accused Governor Edgar Chatto and 1st District Congressman Rene Relampagos.
Relampagos argued that the finding of probable cause “was not supported by facts and the law on which it is based” while fourteen years had elapsed from the time the complaint was filed on October 25, 2000.
The Sandiganbayan gave plaintiffs fifteen days to submit their reply and for the accused ten days to file their counter affidavit.
Six complainants, all lawyers filed a graft case on October 25, 2000 against then Governor Relampagos, former Vice Governor Edgar Chatto, eleven former Board Members, a former Provincial Attorney and a businessman.
Complainant led by former OIC Atty. Victor De La Serna accused the above top provincial officials for selling the water and electric systems owned by the Provincial Government for only 10% of their “professionally” appraised value of P1.48 billion for only P150 milliion.
After an investigation was conducted based on the complainants allegations, Ombudsman Assistant Special Prosecutor lll Manuel Soriano Jr. accused Relampagos et al, “willfully, unlawfully and criminally” entered into a contract under a JVA that transferred the assets and franchise of the province owned electric and water systems to Salcon Consortia represented by Dennis Villareal “which are manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government”.
But according to the Ombudsman the combined value of the assets and franchise of the water and power system was Php782 million and not P1.48 billion as alleged by complainants.
A certification from the Provincial Accountant’s Office issued by Joseth Celocia, Provincial Accountant on September 23, 2014 Â showed that the total assets of the province in its entirety amounted to only Php628.8 million.
The omnibus motion prayed for the criminal case be dismissed for lack of probable cause since the evidence submitted by complainants “miserably failed to show that the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) was “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the province.
Also, Relampagos pointed out that the Ombudsman did not provide any reason for the fourteen years resolution of the complaint despite raising the issue in his motion for reconsideration for violation of his right to speedy disposition of cases.
Instead the Ombudsman, according to Relampagos “merely claimed that an earlier resolution dismissing the complaint “had not yet attained finality”.
In his omnibus motion, Relampagos claimed that the Ombudsman “did not bother to discuss the materiality of the pieces of evidence and how these evidence showed the existence of probable cause”.
Relampagos argued that in the determination of probable cause a discussion on “exactly how and why the contracts entered into were grossly disadvantageous to the government”
Relampagos took exception to the manner the Ombudsman glossed over and ticked off the pieces of evidence submitted by the complainants.
Relying heavily on the findings of Ombudsman Investigation Officer ll Sarah Jo Vergara, the motion stressed that the allegations that the “complainants basis for the alleged total appraisal value of P1.48 billion” was not even stated in the Asian Appraisal Company, Inc. (AACI) appraisal report.
The Php1.48 billion figure, according to Vergara “is supposed to realized within a period of 20 years and were never meant as the actual worth of the utilities.
The Php1.48 billion was obtained by the complainants by simply adding up the amounts under the table Total Business Enterprise Value which are not the present value but merely potential net present values and the Franchise value.
In a report dated August 4, 2000, AACI explained that the net present value of future net cash flows of the water and electric systems are in the negative under the present state of conditions.
AACI further stated that as a private joint venture business, both systems have the potential to have the present net value increase is the JV partners will infuse additional funds to pay off existing debts and acquire additional assets.
But on August 22, 2014 or six years later Ombudsman Morales ordered the filing of graft cases against respondents reversing the Â previous dismissal order and criticize Graft Investigation Officer ll Sarah Jo Vergara for ignoring an Urgent Supplemental Motion to Admit Additional Evidence filed by Atty. Amado Caballero, collaborating counsel for the complainants dated April 3, 2001.
The alleged new pieces of evidence that were not admitted by Vergara included an affidavit by then Board Member Roberto Cajes, BIR capital gains receipt and a financial statement showing that the water and electric systems earned P26 million.
Relampagos pointed out that this does not automatically prove that the JVA was disadvantageous to the government whileÂ Vergara explained that these pieces of evidence were received when the resolution was already submitted for review.
However, Relampagos lamented that since the new evidence were not admitted by the Ombudsman, he should have been given the opportunity to refute and controvert the alleged new evidence when it was considered by the Ombudsman in the August 22, 2014 resolution reversing the 2008 decision dismissing the graft case.
In his motion to quash the information for violation of his right to a speedy trial, Relampagos emphasized that even assuming that there is probable cause, the case should be dismissed because of the “oppressive and inordinate delay in terminating the preliminary investigation”.
The celebrated graft case was dismissed by Vergara on February 22, 2001 and was approved by Deputy Ombudsman (Visayas) Primo Miro on March 21, 2001.
However, Ombudsman Aniano Desierto and Merceditas Gutierrez failed to act on the recommendation but the dismissal of the graft complaint was eventually approved on July 2, 2008, seven years later by Orlando Casimiro, Acting Ombudsman.
According to Relampagos the “capricious, vexatious, oppressive and unjustified delay Â miring the Ombudsman’s resolution” has violated his constitutional right to due process and speedy disposition of cases.
Morales in her August 22, 2014 Resolution ruled that the order dismissing the graft case against Relampagos et al dated July 2, 2008 is deemed void since the resolution signed by Casimiro was only a photocopy of the proposed resolution and was not attached to the original records but merely on a duplicate file.
Morales also disclosed that there was no showing that Casimiro Â was duly designated as Acting Ombudsman and authorized to sign decisions and resolutions for the period in question.
“Being void, the July 2, 2008 Resolution did not attain finality and is, therefore, not immutable”, according to Morales.
Former Board Members Arnold Lungay and Eufracio Mascarinas who are reportedly abroad has not yet filed their respective bailbonds while former Vice Governor, now Governor Edgar Chatto, former 3rd District Board Member, now Vice Governor and Sangguniang Â Panlalawigan Presiding Officer Concepcion Lim, Board Member Tomas Abapo, Jr., former Board Members Felix Uy, Isabelito Tongco and former Provincial Legal Counsel Inocentes Lopez, and SALCON President Dennis Villareal have filed the Ombudsman recommended Php30 thousand bail..
Originally included as accused were Former Provincial Development Officer Juanito Cambangay, Francisco Alesna, Sr., Severino Caberte, Renato Lim, Exequiel Madrinan and Lemuel Digal are now deceased.
Custodio Acorda Sicam De Castro & Panganiban Law Offices, counsel for Relampagos also asked the Sandiganbayan to immediately quash the information and dismiss the case due to the patent lack of authority by an officer to file an information.
The graft complaint for violation of Section 3 (g), of RA 3019 known as the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act was filed by Atty. Zotico Ochavillo, Myrna Pagsuberon, Victor De La Serna, Aster Apalisok-Piollo and the late Atty. Alexander Lim and Nerio Zamora.
The Sandiganbayan 1st Division is chaired by Associate Justice Efren De la Cruz with members Associate Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Rafael Lagos.Â (Chito M. Visarra)