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Sandiganbayan affirms criminal charges vs ex-MRT chief Vitangcol

Rappler.com
Sandiganbayan affirms criminal charges vs ex-MRT chief Vitangcol
The Sandiganbayan's 3rd Division denies Al Vitangcol III's motion to quash for lack of merit

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court  Sandiganbayan’s 3rd Division has affirmed the validity of criminal charges against former Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3) general manager Al Vitangcol III and 5 executives of the Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corporation (PH Trams).

Citing breach of procedure and baseless challenge on jurisdiction, the Sandiganbayan’s 3rd Division denied Vitangcol’s motion to quash for lack of merit in  a 12-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez, with Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses concurring.

Vitangcol was accused of illegally intervening in the award of the MRT3 maintenance contract to PH Trams and CB and T Joint Venture in his capacity as head of the agency and the negotiating team, and as a member of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).

He allegedly acted in conspiracy with PH Trams directors and incorporators Arturo Soriano, Wilson de Vera, Marlo dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit, and Federico Remo.

Prosecutors alleged that Vitangcol had indirect financial interest in PH Trams, as one of its directors, Soriano, is his uncle-in-law.

Vitangcol had earlier challenged the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction, claiming that his right to equal protection of law was violated when the Ombudsman failed to indict other respondent public officials, particularly then Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, and members of the Negotiating Team for the Interim Maintenance Contract, the task force that reviewed the terms of reference, and of the BAC. 

Owing to this, he claimed to be a victim of selective prosecution, but the court overruled Vitangcol’s arguments.

“First, the Motion to Quash can be denied outright as it was filed after the accused has been arraigned. Accused Vitangcol’s failure to file a Motion to Quash prior to his arraignment constitutes a waiver of any objections,” the court said.

No arbitrariness

It added that the cases fall within its jurisdiction as Vitangcol was a public official and head of a government agency when the alleged offense was committed, and he was charged of committing criminal acts in the discharge of his official functions.

“There is nothing in the information that would indicate that the same were filed in violation of the accused Vitangcol’s right to equal protection of law. That the other respondent government officials were not similarly indicted does not necessarily mean that accused Vitangcol’s right to equal protection of laws was violated,” the court said. 

The Sandiganbayan also said that the Ombudsman’s dismissal of charges against Vitangcol’s co-respondents “is not a sufficient [basis] to impute arbitrariness or caprice.”

“What is in issue is the disqualification of PH Trams resulting from the relationship of accused Vitangcol and accused Soriano, and the alleged failure to disclose, or alleged intentional concealment of, such relationship,” it said.

The Office of the Ombudsman filed the charges against Vitangcol and the PH Trams executives on December 1, 2015.

Vitangcol was sacked in May 2014 over the alleged anomalous deal with his in-law. His relief was to give way to the investigation.

In June 2014, Vitangcol was sued over an alleged bribery attempt in connection with an MRT3 capacity expansion project. PH Trams representative De Vera was Vitangcol’s alleged liaison in the alleged extortion try. – Rappler.com

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