MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has ordered the 90-day suspension of Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay Jr over graft charges stemming from the alleged unlawful acquisition of a thrift bank by the Local Water Utilities Administration when he was LWUA chair.
The Sandiganbayan 4th Division directed the House of Representatives to implement the suspension order against Pichay, and to submit a report in writing about the action taken.
In ordering Pichay’s suspension, Associate Justices Reynaldo P. Cruz, Alex L. Quiroz, and Edgardo M. Caldona overruled the lawmaker’s objections invoking questions of jurisdiction and applicability of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act to his case.
In 2016, Pichay was criminally charged before the Sandiganbayan for LWUA's acquisition of Express Savings Bank Incorporated (ESBI) in 2009.
Prosecutors cited irregularities in the transaction which was approved without the required approval of the Office of the President, the Department of Finance, and the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
They said ESBI was insolvent and was incurring losses at the time of its acquisition. They also questioned LWUA’s deposit of P300 million to ESBI, and its P400-million advance payment for stock subscription in August 2009 which LWUA could not get back when the bank went into receivership in 2011.
Pichay argued before the court that his suspension would no longer serve any purpose since he was an elected official, and he was not in a position to influence possible witnesses nor tamper records to his advantage.
He also claimed only Congress has the authority to impose disciplinary actions on its members.
The court said Pichay’s argument lacked merit.
“It is of no consequence that Pichay is presently holding an office which is completely different from the previous position that he held…because it is doctrinal that suspension pendente lite applies to any office that the public office is currently holding. Wherefore, premises considered, the Court hereby orders the suspension pendente lite of accused Prospero A. Pichay,” the court said in its 5-page resolution.
In 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman found enough evidence to file criminal charges against Pichay and several others, after it found that government funds intended to fund local water services had been lost to an "unlawful" bank acquisition.
The Ombudsman probe also showed that the former LWUA officials approved the ESBI takeover despite opposition from the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Office of the Solicitor-General at the time.
LWUA is a state firm that extends loans to local water districts to improve water supply systems outside Metro Manila.
In recommending the filing of graft charges against Pichay and others over the bank acquisition in 2015, then-ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had said the anomalous deal "deprived the government of the opportunity to use the illegally expended funds to instead fund the agency's lawful projects."
Pichay is running for reelection as representative of the 1st District of Surigao del Sur. – Rappler.com