The Sandiganbayan has found Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, Jr. guilty of three counts of graft and sentenced him to 18 to 30 years in prison for mismanaging P780 million in funds while he was administrator of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).
In its decision dated June 7, the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division convicted Pichay and his then deputy administrator Wilfredo Feleo Jr. for LWUA’s acquisition of 60 percent voting stock of the Laguna-based local thrift bank Express Savings Bank Inc. (ESBI) owned by the Wellex Group Inc. (WGI) and Forum Pacific Inc. (FPI). The transaction was done in 2009.
In a statement, Pichay expressed surprise at the Sandiganbayan’s decision, noting that the constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty can be overthrown only by proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“It is noteworthy that even the dispositive portion of the decision admits that no civil liability is adjudged against me in view of the fact that LWUA public funds invested in ESBI are under receivership and liquidation of the PDIC. So it is baffling: how can there be undue injury to the government?” Pichay asked.
He said his legal team will come up with the necessary action to prove his innocence. “I am now discussing with my lawyers our next course of action but definitely, I am determined to exhaust all possible legal remedies accorded to me by law.”
The anti-graft court said Pichay and Feleo, “caused undue injury to the government when they made the ESBI acquisition without securing requirements and prior approval of the Office the President, the Department of Finance (DOF), the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas-Monetary Board (BSP-MB), and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) as provided for under Republic Act 8791 or the General Banking Law of 2000 and Administrative Order 59.”
“The prosecution was able to present sufficient evidence to prove that the irregular transactions carried out by the accused LWUA officials…were committed with gross inexcusable negligence.
Ultimately, the absence of the requisite MB approval resulted in losses on the part of the government in the total amount of P780 million,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“It cannot be denied that the accused Pichay and Feleo knew of this requirement as they had been in consultation with the Office of the President, the DOF, and BSP. They were specifically advised to secure prior approval of the MB. This advice was given before LWUA purchased ESBI shares,” it added.
The Sandiganbayan meted out Pichay and Feleo six to 10 years in prison for each count of graft or a total of 18 to 30 years. In addition, they were disqualified from holding any government position for life.
Pichay lost his re-election bid in the May elections.