Elenita Binay acquitted, underlings fall in P45-M hospital beds case

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan acquitted former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay in a P45-million hospital beds case, but her city hall subordinates fell and were sentenced to six to eight years for two counts of graft.

The chairman of the division, Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang would have also wanted to convict Binay, saying the former mayor "was an accountable official who had custody and control of the funds."

Tang said Binay and the others were liable because they signed the disbursement vouchers and "thus certified that the disbursements were lawful and the supporting documents were complete."

In a special division vote, the 3rd division voted 4-1 to acquit Binay and Bids and Awards Committee officials Ernesto Aspillaga, Dulce Cruz, and Luz Yamane-Garcia.

The court instead convicted supply officer Conrado Paminutan and administrative officer Jaime delos Reyes.

Sandiganbayan divisions are made up of three justices, but in cases filed before 2015, all three have to be unanimous to promulgate a decision. If someone dissents – in this case Tang, the chairman – they would pick by raffle two additional justices to convene a special division where majority wins.

The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez, with concurrences from Associate Justice Ronald Moreno as the regular member, and Associate Justices Oscar Herrera and Alex Quiroz as special members.

Tang and Quiroz are applying for the current vacancy in the Supreme Court.

Binay's lawyer Sandra Coronel said, "We are relieved that after more than 10 years, this case is finally over."

"The Ospital ng Makati has meantime, through those many years, established itself as vital to the city's service to its citizens, and Dra. Binay is proud to have founded it," said Coronel.

The case

Binay was accused of favoring a supplier, and granting a P45-million contract without public bidding for the procurement of P36.431-million worth of hospital beds, cabinets, intensive care unit beds, orthopedic beds, as well as P8.83 million worth of sterilizers.

The supplier was Apollo Medical Equipment and Supplies.

Favoring suppliers and overpricing had been found to be repeat offenses during the terms of Elenita, her husband and former vice president Jejomar, and their son Junjun as mayors of Makati. These cases had all reached the Sandiganbayan, with Elenita acquitted in a couple of them.

Binay was accused of irregularities in the procurement of P36.431-million hospital beds, cabinets, intensive care unit beds, orthopedic beds, as well as P8.83 million worth of sterilizers from Apollo Medical Equipment and Supplies.

The procurement supposedly gave unwarranted benefits to the supplier and did not undergo competitive public bidding.

The court held Pamintuan and Delos Reyes liable as members of the committee of canvass because they "committed gross inexcusable negligence in considering Apollo Medical as an exclusive distributor and that no suitable substitute of substantially the same quality existed in the market or even more advantageous to the government."

Binay, Aspillaga, Cruz, and Garcia, the Court said, performed merely ministerial duties as bids and awards committee members.

"The reliance of the Committee on Awards on the recommendations of the Committee on Canvass falls short of the degree of criminal liability demanded by the anti-graft court," said the Court.

In her dissenting opinion, Tang said that the irregularities with Apollo Medical's qualifications "could have been readily and easily discovered by [Binay, et al] had they exercised even a modicum of diligence in examining the documents presented before them."

Tang said despite "glaring circumstances" that could have raised red flags about the ineligibility of the supplier, Binay and others "allowed Apollo Medical to take money from the City of Makati."

"There is no doubt that accused Binay and Cruz allowed and/or consented to the illegal release of the funds by signing the subject vouchers despite the lack of the certifications required by law whenever procurement is done without public bidding," said Tang.

Coronel said the whole case was just political harassment.

"Let this be a vindication for all local government executives who dare to dream big for their LGUs despite the risk that political opponents will get in the way," said Coronel. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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