THE Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court, ordered a 90-day preventive suspension on Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr. and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. on separate graft charges.
Espino faces three counts of graft for allowing black sand mining in Lingayen Gulf in 2011 when he was still governor, while Villafuerte is being held accountable for the irregular procurement of P20 million worth of petroleum products for the provincial government in 2010.
The anti-graft court’s Sixth Division, in a resolution written by Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada, said Espino will face trial for the issuance of permits to Xypher Builders Inc. and Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Inc. to conduct soil remediation and mineral extraction in Barangay Sabangan in Lingayen for the exportation of P10.750 million worth of minerals to China when he was provincial governor.
Associate Justices Oscar Herrera and Karl Miranda concurred with the decision.
The resolution said the suspension was not a penalty because it was not imposed as a result of judicial proceedings, the court said.
“In fact if acquitted, the official concerned is entitled to reinstatement and to salaries and benefits which he failed to receive during suspension,” the resolution read.
The anti-graft court directed Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to enforce the 90-day suspension order.
Ponferrada, Herrera and Miranda, however, gave Espino 15 days to file a plea.
Earlier, Espino filed an opposition challenging the Sandiganbayan’s suspension order.
He said only the House of Representatives can suspend him, and that his suspension was “in violation of the wishes of general public” as it “will deprive his constituents of their voice in Congress.”
Espino ran in the May 9 congressional race and won a seat.
In 2011, the former governor authorized the issuance of permits to Xypher Builders Inc. and Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Inc. to conduct black sand mining in Lingayen Gulf.
Based on court records, the two firms were not registered with the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board and did not have a clearance from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Espino was tagged as a narco-politician in the drug matrix of President Rodrigo Duterte.
He met with Duterte, denied any drug involvement and even vowed to support the President’s anti-war drive.
Alvarez said Friday the House would study Espino’s case thoroughly and come up with a collective decision as to whether to implement the anti-graft court’s decision.
Alvarez said he would likely refer the Sandiganbayan order to the House committee on rules.
Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, chairman of the committee on rules, said his panel would include the anti-graft court’s ruling in its business of the day for members of the House to decide in plenary.
Villafuerte, the son of former Camarines Sur governor Luis Villafuerte, was charged with graft for the procurement of fuel products amounting to P20 million, which was awarded to Jeffrey Lo, owner of the Naga Fuel Express Zone-Petron Naga Fuel Express without a bidding when he was then the governor.
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