Sandiganbayan acquits former DBM, TRC execs of graft over PDAF scam

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan acquitted former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) undersecretary Mario Relampagos and former Technology Resource Center (TRC) chief Dennis Cunanan of multiple counts of graft in connection with the pork barrel scam.

In its 35-page decision, the Sandiganbayan's First Division said Relampagos and Cunanan's actions were part of their regular functions and did not constitute unlawful intent or evil motive.

"The evidence of the prosecution does not meet the test of moral certainty in order to establish that accused Relampagos and Cunanan were part of a conspiracy to commit the crime. Exoneration must then be granted as a matter of right," the decision, penned by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz, read.

Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona concurred. Relampagos was cleared of 4 counts of graft, while Cunanan was cleared of 6 counts of graft. The two, however, still face multiple cases of graft and malversation in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Graft investigators said that in 2007, P28.8 million from former Cagayan de Oro congressman Constantino Jaraula's Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was released by the DBM through the issuance of special allotment release orders (SAROs) to the TRC.

The amount was transferred to the Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation, one of the non-governmental organizations linked to alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

The Sandiganbayan said that Relampagos' signing of SAROs that led to the release of P20 million from Jaraula's PDAF was not in itself unlawful.

"The mere act of signing the SAROs…absent any other proof that it was done in furtherance of, or in complicity with, an unlawful intent or evil motive, cannot be considered as evident bad faith or a display of manifest partiality," the court said.

The Sandiganbayan noted an admission of a prosecution witness that Relampagos only approved the SAROs in a delegated capacity, and that it is the DBM secretary who has the original authority to do so.

The court also found the alleged familiarity between Napoles and Relampagos "as insufficient proof of conspiracy."

"The testimony of Luy that Napoles informed him that Relampagos was their contact in the DBM is considered hearsay, and thus, inadmissible as evidence," the court said, referring to whistle-blower Benhur Luy. 

As for Cunanan, the Sandiganbayan said it is not convinced that the evidence is sufficient "to establish...guilt beyond reasonable doubt."

In 2018, the Sandiganbayan declared Relampagos a fugitive after he fled trial for 300 counts of pork barrel scam-related cases. – Rappler.com