The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the 2019 Sandiganbayan decision that convicted former Maguindanao Gov. Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan of graft, falsification of public documents, and malversation of public funds involving P35.7 million.
In a decision, the SC sustained the anti-graft court’s ruling that sentenced Ampatuan to imprisonment ranging from six months to eight years in each of the 63 cases or a total of 504 years of maximum jail term, in connection with his conviction for falsification of public documents.
In the malversation of public funds, upheld by the SC was the reclusion perpetua (a jail term ranging from 20 to 40 years) imposed on Ampatuan and his co-accused, Datualia K. Ampi Al Haj who was then the provincial budget officer. They were ordered to pay a fine of P35.7 million.
The high court also affirmed Ampatuan and Al Haj’s conviction for graft for which they were sentenced to eight years and one day to maximum of 12 years imprisonment.
On July 1, 2011, the Commission on Audit found that cash advances amounting to P85.7 million were made from the funds of the province of Maguindanao and paid to Abo Lumberyard and Construction Supply for the repair of school buildings.
However, the COA team discovered that despite the disbursements, no actual purchases of materials were made and that Abo Lumberyard “did not exist as a business entity as it had no business permit, no records with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and could not be found at its given address.”
On March 27, 2014, COA filed with the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) charges of malversation, fraud against the public treasury, failure to render accounts, illegal use of public funds and property, and violations of Government Auditing Code, Section 3(g) of Republic Act
3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), falsification by public officers, falsification by private individuals, and use of falsified documents.
Charged were provincial officials Datu Andal S. Ampatuan Sr., Ampatuan, John Estelito G. Dollosa Jr., Osmeana M. Bandila, Norie K. Linas, Kasan I. Macapendeg, Al Haj, and Landap Guinaid.
After preliminary investigation, the OMB charged all the respondents, except Ampatuan Sr. who died on July 17, 2015, with one count of graft, one count of malversation involving P38.1 million, and 73 counts of falsification of public documents.
Unas, Macapendeg, and Guinaid, died during the pendency of the cases and the charges against them were dismissed. On the other hand, Bandila and Dollosa Jr. remained at-large. Only Ampatuan and Al Haj stood trial.
Ampatuan and Al Haj were convicted by the Sandiganbayan on March 22, 2019. The anti-graft court ruled that all the elements of the crimes charged have been established; that that there was a “unity in purpose among the accused to consciously defraud the Government” considering that the entire process, which involved several departments within the LGU (local government unit), could not have been possibly accomplished by a single person alone; and that “there was an overall scheme to perpetuate the crimes… belying the claim of good faith by accused-appellants.”
But the Sandiganbayan noted that Ampatuan’s signature did not appear in 10 disbursement vouchers (DVs), while Al Haj’s signature did not appear at all on any of the DVs. Thus, Ampatuan was cleared of 10 counts, while Al Haj was absolved in all the charges of falsification of public documents.
When their plea for reconsideration was denied by the Sandiganbayan, they elevated the anti-graft court’s ruling before the SC on appeal.
Among his allegations in his appeal, Ampatuan claimed that he was denied due process due to the negligence of his former counsel.
“Contrary to Ampatuan’s assertions that he did not sign or agree to the Joint Stipulation, the Sandiganbayan found that the parties were in agreement in filing the Joint Stipulation and dispensing with the presentation of witnesses. In fact, despite the alleged defect in procedure, Ampatuan himself participated in the succeeding incidents by filing his Formal Offer of Exhibits and Memorandum without raising any objection,” the SC ruled.
“Moreover, from the time that the pre-trial was terminated on Feb. 19, 2019, not once did Ampatuan raise these issues, until only now. To us, these circumstances reveal the true nature of these arguments: mere afterthoughts, which deserve no consideration,” it added.
“Moreover, Ampatuan cannot assail the validity of the Joint Stipulation and its contents as he does now, and then cite the same when it suits his favor. Such act betrays fairness. From the foregoing, it follows that Ampatuan’s claim of a violation of his right against self-incrimination is likewise erroneous simply because he failed to demonstrate compulsion. Besides, even if the admitted facts contained in the Joint Stipulation which Ampatuan claims are damning to him are disregarded, the same may easily be established from the pieces of documentary evidence such as receipts, bidding documents, appointment papers submitted to the Sandiganbayan, and other publicly available records, and the result will be the same,” the high court noted.
The SC stressed that neither is there merit in his contention that he was deprived of his right of confrontation. Again, the validity of the Joint Stipulation as found by the Sandiganbayan amounts to a waiver of this right. In any case, the findings of fact of the Sandiganbayan are generally accorded finality by this Court.”
“Ampatuan’ s Extremely Urgent Motion for Review seeking for the reversal of the Sandiganbayan order cancelling his bail and ordering his arrest is hereby denied for having been rendered moot,” it said.