The Supreme Court has sustained the resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman indicting former officers of the Public Estates Authority over the anomaly in the 2002 construction of the Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City.
In a decision, the high court upheld the 2003 resolution of the anti-graft body approving the filing of graft charges against the former PEA directors before the Sandiganbayan.
The tribunal dismissed the petition filed by the former PEA officials Victor Lacson, Raphael Pocholo Zorilla, Cristina Amposta-Mortel, Manuel Berina Jr., Jaime Millan, Bernardo Viray, Frisco Francisco San Juan, Carmelita de Leon-Chan, Daniel Dayan, Salvador Malbarosa, Leo Padilla and Elpidio Damaso.
According to the high court, the Ombudsman’s “finding of probable cause did not touch on the issue of guilt or innocence of the accused.”
“The Ombudsman simply weighed the evidence presented together with the counter-allegations of the accused and determined that there was enough reason to believe that a crime has been committed and that the accused are probably guilty thereof,” the SC said.
It also found that the anti-graft office “did not exercise its wide prerogative whimsically, capriciously or arbitrarily.”
The SC stressed that it “cannot interfere in the exercise by the Office of the Ombudsman of its investigatory and prosecutorial powers” without good and compelling reasons.
The Macapagal Boulevard was constructed to address the problem of flooding in the area, alleviate traffic congestion along Roxas Boulevard, and link the reclamation with circumferential and radial road system of Metro Manila.
The PEA Board in 1998 approved the construction of the road project as well as the P1-billion loan facility in the form of convertible notes to finance the same.
But a Commission on Audit report showed that apart from the original contract price of more than P584 million, the total project cost of Package I with contractor J.D. Legaspi amounted to more than P837 million, excluding two variation orders at the time were still subject to PEA approval.
In October 2002, Sulficio Tagud, a former member of the PEA Board, then filed a complaint-affidavit with the Ombudsman against officers and members of the 2001-2002 board directors and other accused.
In the assailed ruling, the Ombudsman approved the filing of charges for violation of Sec. 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against the petitioners before the anti-graft court.
Then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo alleged that the said public officials gave unwarranted benefits, advantage, and preference to accused Legaspi by bidding out the project and illegally awarding the same to the latter despite the lack of compliance with the mandatory requirements and procedure for bidding, even if no funds are yet available to finance the project.
The Ombudsman also averred that it caused the allowance and payment of
several claims of Legaspi amounting to an unlawful overprice of more than P532 million.