Philippine judiciary

Sandiganbayan affirms conviction of former Bukidnon lawmaker, 2 others in pork barrel mess

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Sandiganbayan affirms conviction of former Bukidnon lawmaker, 2 others in pork barrel mess
(1st UPDATE) In July 2023, the anti-graft court affirms its April ruling, sentencing ex-congressman Candido Pancrudo and two others to 96 to 151 years in prison

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Monday, July 10, upheld the conviction of a former congressman from Bukidnon and two others for eight counts of graft and four counts of malversation of public funds due to bogus purchases using more than P30 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

On April 14, the court sentenced the following to imprisonment of 96 to 151 years for defrauding the government:

  • Former Bukidnon 1st District representative Candido Pancrudo
  • Maria Rosalinda Lacsamana, a group manager for the Technology Resource Center (TRC)
  • Johanne Edward Labay, a Farmer-Business Development Corporation (FDC) officer

The 67-year-old Pancrudo served as one of Bukidnon’s congressmen from 2007 to 2010, during the Arroyo administration. 

The three were also ordered to pay fines totaling P69.7 million and a civil indemnity of P32.8 million. 

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April 2023 verdict

The April 2023 decision, contained in a 77-page ruling signed by Associate Justice Oscar Herrera Jr., the Sandiganbayan’s 2nd Division chairperson, found that that three were responsible for funneling PDAF sums amounting to P16 million, P8 million, P4.8 million, and P4 million into FDC through TRC as a conduit. 

The ruling was made with the concurrence of Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Arthur Malabaguio. Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi dissented, while Associate Justice Lorifel Lacap Pahimna concurred in Musngi’s dissent.

The Sandiganbayan held that the fund transfers were evidenced by checks drawn by TRC and receipts. 

Part of the decision read: “FDC, through its officers, thus clearly acquired custody of and control over the subject funds. Its subsequent failure to properly account for the amounts, providing only spurious documents to support their alleged utilization, ineluctably proves the aggregate sum of P32.8 million was misappropriated.”

The cases arose from a special report by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the multi-billion-peso PDAF scam, which included the releases of Pancrudo’s pork barrel allocations in 2007 and 2008. 

The court found that official receipts from Felta Multi-Media Incorporated, a supplier of instructional materials, science equipment, and educational mobile devices, were used to make it appear that there were actual procurements of training kits paid for using Pancrudo’s PDAF.

The Sandiganbayan also found insufficient evidence to convict former TRC group manager Francisco Figura, budget officer Consuelo Lilian Espiritu, and chief accountant Marivic Jover of any criminal charge.

Second conviction for Pancrudo

It was the second time for the ex-congressman to be convicted in six months of criminal offenses related to his PDAF. On October 21, 2022, the Sandiganbayan 5th Division convicted him of two counts of graft and two counts of malversation of public funds for ghost projects funded by his pork barrel funds in 2009. 

The court said funds, amounting to P8.2 million, passed through the National Agri-Business Corporation (Nabcor) before being funneled into an NGO chosen by Pancrudo himself. 

In the 2022 ruling, Pancrudo was sentenced to 29 to 41 years in prison and ordered to return P7.95 million to the government in addition to fines ranging from P1.193 million to P6.76 million.

No reason to reverse ruling

In an eight-page resolution dated July 10, 2023, the same Sandiganbayan division rejected the motions for reconsideration separately filed by Pancrudo, Lacsamana, and Labay.

The defendants had said that the evidence presented against them were not enough to prove they had conspired. 

The court disagreed, saying Pancrudo’s letters to the TRC were evidently meant to prompt the TRC to release his pork barrel to FDC, the favored NGO. 

“The tenor of his letters belie the mere recommendatory character that he wishes to typify his NGO designation,” the court said. 

The court considered it proof of conspiracy that tranches of Pancrudo’s PDAF were transferred by TRC to FDC, and that FDC’s Labay submitted spurious documents to support the liquidation.

The Sandiganbayan said, “The Court finds no valid reason to reconsider or modify the Decision dated April 14, 2023.  The Findings and conclusions contained in the decision stand.” –

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