Sandiganbayan upholds malversation conviction of ex-Sarangani gov, officer

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan has denied the motion for reconsideration filed by a former Sarangani governor and provincial agricultural officer, in connection with a malversation case about alleged misdirecting of relief goods.

The Special 3rd Division, in a vote of 3-2, affirmed its earlier decision convicting former Sarangani governor Miguel Escobar and former provincial agriculture officer Romeo Miole guilty of channeling P1.44 million worth of relief goods to political supporters instead of the intended beneficiaries affected by a flooding back in 2001.

Escobar, in his motion, pressed that he had no hand in the failure of delivery of P1,875 sacks of rice and 240 sacks of hybrid corn to indigenous beneficiaries.

He said that he only relied on Miole's reports that the program is being implemented and he was unaware of the diversion of the goods until the tribal chiefs followed up on their reliefs.

But the anti-graft cout noted that both Escobar and Miole acknowledged during the hearing that they knew the goods were distributed to local officials. The court stressed that Escobar's failure to hold accountable those repsonsibile of the irregularities is an "adminission of negligence."

“Escobar… is no less guilty because a project involving 1,875 sacks of rice that took place in his province and which he was duty-bound to supervise should not have escaped his attention. It would even be considered as an admission of his negligence because even after learning of the distribution of the sacks of rice, he did not do anything,” the court said.

The Commission on Audit also found in its probe that the omplementation of the relief project was “replete with irregularities” since it was awarded to a contractor not accredited by the National Food Authority.

Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, who wrote the decision, argued the lack of merit in Escobar's motion for reconsideration. Associate Justices Jose Hernandez and Samuel Martires, however, dissented, pointing to the prosecution's lack of proof in showing Escibar and Miole are "guilty beyond reasonable doubt."

Escobar and Miole will spend 10 to 18 years of prison time. –