Ex-SAF chief cleared in secondhand choppers deal

CA rules that the Ombudsman erred in finding Santiago liable for dishonesty

CLEARED. The Court of Appeals overturns an earlier Ombudsman's decision against former Special Action Force chief Leocadio Santiago on the used choppers deal. AFP file photo

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals has cleared former Police Special Action Force (SAF) chief Leocadio Santiago Jr of administrative liabilities in the irregular purchase of two secondhand helicopters sold as new in 2009. 

In a 10-page decision, the CA ruled that the Office of the Ombudsman “erred” in finding Santiago liable for dishonesty, gross neglect of duties and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the servce. 

The CA also cleared Santiago of conspiring with other police officers. 

In June 2012, the Office of the Ombudsman charged former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and 21 others for their involvement in the anomalous purchase of secondhand helicopters from Manila Aerospace Trading Corporation (MAPTRA). 

Due to the case, Santiago, who retired in March 2012, was among those slapped with a fine equivalent to a one year salary. His retirement benefits were forfeited and he was also permanently prohibited from holding public office.

The CA overturned the Ombudsman’s decision. It said Santiago’s “only sin” was his mere association to the PNP National Headquarters Bids and Awards Committee (NHQ-BAC) as one of its members. 

The court found Santiago never took part in the negotiations with potential sellers and he had not authorized anyone to appear on his behalf. 

The CA also found “no clear and substantial evidence” that the former SAF chief “colluded with the top brass of the PNP to allegedly defraud the government” and “no evidence showing petitioner was acting under orders fro his superiors.”

According to the CA, Santiago’s only role in the NHQ-BAC as then head of SAF was to ensure that the helicopters to be acquired would fit the requirements of SAF. 

“It is improbable nay it is impossible for petitioner to be accused of being partial to MAPTRA when petitioner did not even liase with MAPTRA during the negotiation process,” CA said. 

The procurement process for the helicopters went through various stages, including negotiation, issuance of recommendation to award contract, delivery, inspection, acceptance and payment. 

Requiring Santiago to “to scrutinize each and every process at a time when he was also leading  police operations in Jolo, Sulu is to ask for the impossible,” the CA said.

With the decision, Santiago’s appeal for temporary restraining order and motion for reconsideration was deemed moot and academic. – Rappler.com

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