The Supreme Court (SC) has thrown out the petition by former Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and his staff who questioned their indictment before the Sandiganbayan for their alleged role in anomalies involving lawmakers’ pork barrel fund, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
In a 16-page decision written by Associate Justice Henri Paul Inting of the SC’s Third Division and recently made available online, the high tribunal affirmed the anti-graft court ruling on September 18, 2017 that denied Relampagos and his co-respondents’ motion for the dismissal of the charges for graft and malversation.
The previous ruling stated there was probable cause against the petitioners when they facilitated with “undue haste” the processing of the Special Allotment Release Orders (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocations (NCAs) for former Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas’ PDAF allocation.
Aside from Cagas and Relampagos, the other respondents were Department of Budget and Management (DBM) employees Rosario Nunez, Lalaine Paule, and Marilou Bare.
The cases arose mainly from the revelations in March 2013 of witness Benhur Luy, who accused his former boss, Janet Lim Napoles, and the latter’s sibling, Reynald Lim, of illegally detaining him.
Luy claimed he was detained to prevent disclosing what he allegedly knew of anomalies in government projects funded through the PDAF and the JLN Group of Companies.
The revelations prompted the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman to conduct a parallel fact-finding investigation based on reports of the Commission on Audit and its findings on PDAF allocations and disbursements from 2007 to 2009.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Ombudsman subsequently filed their complaints against a number of lawmakers, including Cagas.
“The Sandiganbayan’s findings of probable cause prevails over petitioners’ one-sided and self-serving allegations of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Sandiganbayan,” the court said.
According to the Ombudsman’s findings in Cagas’ case, it involved the DBM processing the SARO for the defunct Technology and Livelihood Resource Center, which then released the disbursement voucher to a non-governmental organization (NGO), Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation Inc.
A legislator or his representative would ensure the release of the pork barrel by identifying a specific project, the particular NGO which will serve as a project proponent, and the implementing agency of the government to which the PDAF allocation will be released and which will disburse the same to the NGO selected by the lawmaker, according to investigators.
The SC also stated “there is no evidence that the Sandiganbayan abused, or acted in capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment…in finding probable case for the issuance of warrants of arrest against all petitioners,”
“There is likewise no showing that the Sandiganbayan’s power was exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner,” the court added in dismissing the appeal.