Sandiganbayan orders arrest of Negros Oriental governor on illegal use of PHP480-M calamity fund

MANILA-- The Sandiganbayan has ordered the arrest of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo for graft in connection with his alleged illegal use of the PHP480-million calamity fund from the national government for the province's infrastructure projects in 2012.

Likewise ordered arrested were Degamo's co-accused provincial treasurer Danilo Mendez and provincial accountant Teodorico Reyes.

The arrest order was issued on Tuesday after the Sandiganbayan Third Division upheld its finding of probable cause to try the respondents for their cases.

In its 28-page resolution, the Sandiganbayan said that "finding a probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that, more likely than not, a crime has been committed and that it was committed by the accuse."

It added that "the presence, or absence, of the elements of the crimes are evidentiary matters which ought to be established during the trial."

The Sandiganbayan also dismissed the respondents' motion for judicial determination of probable cause for being "unmeritorious."

Degamo, along with Mendez and Reyes, were charged with 11 counts of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act", and 11 counts of malversation of public funds through falsification of public documents under the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

Results of the Ombudsman's probe show that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued a Special Allotment and Release Order (SARO) for PHP961.5 million on June 5, 2012 in response to Degamo's request for funds for the rehabilitation of infrastructure in the province damaged by Typhoon "Sendong" in December 2011, and the magnitude-6.9 earthquake that happened in February 2013.

Of the PHP961.5-million calamity fund, PHP480.7 million was immediately released to the provincial government.

However, on June 19, 2012, the DBM informed Degamo that the SARO was being withdrawn due to the failure of the province to comply with existing guidelines for infrastructure projects.

The issuance of a negative SARO meant the provincial government's projects were no longer supported by appropriation and allotment.

Despite the notice, Degamo and other provincial government officials proceeded to award 11 infrastructure contracts amounting to PHP143.2 million representing the 15 percent advance payment to contractors.

The Commission on Audit (COA) later issued 11 Notices of Disallowance since the local government certified the funds as available despite the SARO's withdrawal.

In the resolution finding probable cause to charge Degamo for graft, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales found him and his co-respondents "unilaterally ignored the DBM's directive and continued to award 11 infrastructure projects."

"(I)f respondents had reservations on the legality of the withdrawal of the positive SARO, they could have asked a higher executive authority or secured a judicial directive allowing them to retain control of the funds released to the province. This, respondents failed to do," the Ombudsman said.

The Sandiganbayan set the bail at PHP2.23 million for each respondent. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency