pork barrel scam

Sandiganbayan affirms Napoles’ bribery conviction, triples penalty to P79M

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Sandiganbayan affirms Napoles’ bribery conviction, triples penalty to P79M

ANTI-GRAFT COURT. The Sandiganbayan in Quezon City.

Jansen Romero/Rappler

A special division votes 3-2 to affirm the conviction of Janet Napoles and former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives representative Edgar Valdez in connection with the pork barrel scam

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan not only affirmed the bribery conviction of pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles but also raised her penalty to P79 million from P27 million.

In a resolution issued on July 8, a special division of five justices voted 3-2 to affirm the conviction of Napoles and former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC) representative Edgar Valdez for nine counts of direct bribery in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.

Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justices Maryann Corpus-Mañalac concurred with the majority ruling penned by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos that the lesser crimes of direct bribery and corruption of public officials were sufficiently alleged in the original information for plunder when it was filed in 2015.

Napoles had filed a Motion for Reconsideration in October 2023, asking the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division to reverse its October 2, 2023 guilty verdict. At the time, she was deemed guilty of nine counts of corruption of public officials with a sentenced to two years and four months imprisonment for each count or a total of 21 years, and fine of P27 million.

‘Actual damage suffered by the government’

The court not only denied her appeal but also increased her penalty to P79.04 in civil liability – the amount released to bogus private foundations Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. (MAMFI), the Philippine Social Development Foundation Incorporated (PSDFI), and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc. (SDPFFI).

“This total amount of P79,040,000 comprised the public funds that went to the coffers of the three NGOs under the control of accused Napoles, and thus constituted the actual damage suffered by the Government,” the anti-graft court said.

This is the breakdown of the funds transferred to Napoles’ bogus NGOs, according to the court:

  • P28.6 million – PSDFI and SDPFFI in 2007
  • P21.34 million – SDPFFI in 2008
  • P29.1 million -MAMFI and SDPFFI in 2009

“The penalty to pay a fine is not equivalent to finding an accused civilly liable for restitution. It is imperative that the courts prescribe the proper penalties when convicting the accused and determine the civil liability to the imposed,” the court said.

It said that civil liability “constitutes the actual damages suffered by the government resulting from the unlawful scheme” that tapped into Valdez’s PDAF allocations.

Application of ‘variance rule’

Napoles and Valdez had questioned the application of the “variance rule” on their case, They argued that since the Sandiganbayan found insufficient evidence to convict them of plunder, they should have been acquitted of all crimes stemming from the original charge.

Valdez said that being convicted of direct bribery despite his acquittal of the original indictment of plunder violated his constitutional right to be informed of the case against him. Napoles supported this position and argued that the bribery charges should have been filed and tried separate from the original plunder case.

Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega submitted a dissenting opinion adopted by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna to grant Napoles’ and Valdez’s motions for reconsideration which would acquit them of all charges.

Arcena noted that Valdez and Napoles were charged and tried on the charge of plunder, and that their right to be informed about the nature and cause of the bribery allegation should take precedence over the application of the variance rule.

The majority supported the view that the variance rule is applicable, if it is necessarily included in the original crime charged.

The court pointed out “accused Valdez and Napoles were adequately apprised that the plunder information included the lesser offenses of bribery and corruption of public officers.”

“They were not caught by surprise. They should have been able to intelligently prepare and defend to the same,” the anti-graft court said. – Rappler.com

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