Sandiganbayan affirms graft charges vs Iligan congressman Siao



MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has affirmed the graft charges against Iligan Representative Frederick Siao for an alleged anomalous land lease signed in 2013 when Siao was a city councilor.

In a ruling promulgated early August, the court's 3rd division denied Siao's motion to quash for lack of merit.

Siao is now the representative of the lone district of Iligan.

Siao's former co-councilor and co-accused Michelle Sweet-Booc questioned the information filed against them before the court.

They are accused of violating Section 3(e) of the graft law, which states: "Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence."

As councilors and members of the Sangguniang Panglunsod in 2013, Siao and Booc voted to pass the resolution that authorized then Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Lluch Cruz to sign a contract of lease with Salvatori Development Corporation (SDC) for a 5-year rental of 20,000 square meter government land.

SDC is allegedly connected to the former mayor's relatives.

Cruz also faces the same graft charges as Siao and Booc.

According to Ombudsman prosecutors, Siao and Booc acted with gross negligence, manifest partiality, and evident bad faith when they passed the resolution.

The lease, the prosecution said, did not undergo public bidding.

Siao and Booc said their passage of the resolution does not tie them directly to the supposed crime of entering into the contract. They also allege that a contract of lease does not need to undergo public bidding.

In its reply to the motion, the prosecution insisted that the resolution was integral to the signing of the contract.

In the issue of bidding, the prosecution said the accused relied on a wrong law to support their case. They used the 2016 Revised Rules and Regulations of the procurement law when the transaction was in 2013.

"Hence, the applicable rule is section 53.10 of the 2009 implementing rules of and regulations (IRR) of RA Number 9184 (procurement law)," part of the court decision reads.

Under the said provision, "at least 3 prospective lessors shall be invited to submit a sealed price quotation, the purpose of which is to enable the government to get the best possible offer."

The court, meanwhile, was concerned with the sufficiency of information at this stage.

Citing a Supreme Court ruling, the Sandiganbayan Third Division said, "Information need only state the ultimate facts constituting the offense and not the finer details of why and how the illegal acts alleged therein amounted to undue injury or damage since these are matters of defense which are appropriate for trial."

"In sum, the Court finds and so holds that the Informations in these cases sufficiently charge an offense," reads the decision penned by division chair and Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang. Associate justices Sarah Jane Fernandez and Bernelito Fernandez concurred. –

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 or tweet @lianbuan.