Sandiganbayan: Sajid Ampatuan guilty of corruption

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has found former Maguindanao governor Sajid Ampatuan guilty of corruption in connection with anomalous purchases for school building repairs in his province in 2009.

In a 36-page resolution on Friday, March 22, the Sandiganbayan’s 4th Division convicted Ampatuan of graft, malversation of public funds, and 63 counts of falsification of public documents, and ordered him perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

The court convicted former Maguindanao provincial engineer Datu Ali Abpi Al Haj – Ampatuan’s co-accused, along with 6 others – of graft and malversation, but was acquitted of charges of falsification of public documents.

The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto, with concurrences by associate justices Alex Quiroz and Reynaldo Cruz.

Following the guilty verdict it rendered on Friday, the 4th Division ordered the arrest of Ampatuan and Abpi.

Summary of the case: In July 2011, a special audit team of the Commission on Audit discovered that between January 2008 and September 2009, the provincial government made irregular cash advances, P85.721 million of which had been paid to Apo Lumberyard for construction materials for school building repairs.

The audit team found that no actual purchases were made and the lumberyard did not exist as a business as it had no permit to operate, no tax records, and was not at the given address.

Ampatuan was Maguindanao’s OIC-governor  from January 16, 2009, to October 15, 2009.

The cases that the court ruled on Friday are part of the cases filed by the Ombudsman in 2017 involving alleged ghost projects in Maguindanao.

Sentence: Ampatuan was convicted of graft, malversation of public funds, and 63 counts of falsification of public documents.

Abpi was convicted of graft and malversation, but was acquitted of charges of falsification of public documents.

The court sentenced the two to 8 years and one month to 12 years in prison, and perpetual disqualification from holding public office, over the graft conviction.

For the malversation charge, the court sentenced them to reclusion perpetua – imprisonment of at least 20 years and one day to a maximum of 40 years, after which the convicted would be eligible for parole, unless otherwise specified – and perpetual special disqualification from holding public office.

The court ordered Ampatuan and Abpi to “pay, jointly and severally, a fine of P35,747,493” – equivalent to the amount involved in the malversation case.

For his conviction of falsification of public documents, Ampatuan is sentenced to 6 months and one day in prison to 8 years and one day for each count of the 63 counts.

The two co-accused in the case – former provincial accountant John Estelito Dollosa Jr and provincial treasurer Osmena Bandilla – remained at large so the court ruled that the cases against them be archived pending their arrest, and that cases against them would be reinstated once they were brought to custody.

The cases against the 3 other respondents in the case – bids and awards committee chair Kasan Macapendeg, provincial administrator Norie Unas, and provincial engineer Landap Guinaid – were dismissed in September 2018 after the prosecution submitted their death certificates to court.

No merit: In its resolution, the court said Ampatuan raised the issue of undue delay in the preliminary investigation of the Ombudsman which, he claimed, violated his constitutional right to the speedy disposition of cases.

“He asserts that the Informations alleged that the cases stemmed from transactions entered into between the period January 2008 to September 2009; yet he was indicted only in 2017, or eight years after the occurrence of the acts complained of. Such arguments deserve no merit,” the court said.

The court also set aside  Ampatuan’s assertion of “good faith” in signing disbursement vouchers (DVs), saying it was “not supported by the weight of the evidence on record.”

“The irregularities enumerated – that at the time he signed the 63 DVs, no proof of deliveries were attached thereto and thus, payments were not due to Apo Lumberyard and, the extent of anomalies in the documentation, including the submission of fake receipts to lend some semblance of legitimacy to the said disbursements – are enough to convince the curt that accused’s acts were deliberate and planned,” the court said.

“Thus, for all these reasons, the annotations in the entities in the DVs satisfy the element that the accused made statements containing absolute falsities,” it added.

With respect to several other cases, however, the court said it could not hold Ampatuan liable since the 10 DVs do not contain his signatures.

Sajid was jailed in 2010 as one of the primary suspects in the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre which killed 58 people, the worst case of election-related violence in the country. He obtained temporary freedom in January 2015 after a trial court allowed him to post bail of P11.6 million. (READ: Grand welcome for Ampatuan son out on bail

Read the decision here: