FOUR ranking officials of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and nine other government executives charged with graft in connection with the pork barrel scam have been suspended by the Sandiganbayan.
The anti-graft court’s Third Division ordered the preventive suspension for 90 days of Budget Undersecretary for Operations Mario Relampagos, Chief Budget and Management Specialist Rosario Nuñez, Administrative Assistant VI Lalaine Paule, and Administrative Assistant VI Marilou Bare.
Also suspended were Technology Resource Center (TRC) chief accountant Marivic Jover, TRC Group Manager Consuelo Lilian Espiritu and employee Belina Concepcion; National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC) President Gondelina Amata, Division Chief Gregoria Buenaventura, Director IV Chita Jalandoni, Chief Financial Specialist Sofia Cruz, Budget Officer Filipina Rodriguez, and Cashier IV Ofelia Ordoñez.
The officials were charged along with former Rep. Samuel Dangwa of Benguet.
Dangwa was accused of pocketing P26.7 million in kickbacks from his P54 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel allocation. He is one of five former lawmakers indicted in February in connection with the PDAF scam. The others were former Rep. and now Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of Masbate, former Rep. Edgar Valdez of the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC), former Rep. Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, and former Rep. Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro.
Lanete and Valdez are facing separate plunder and graft charges while Dangwa, Plaza, and Jaraula face separate graft, malversation and direct bribery charges.
In June this year, the prosecution sought the suspension of these officials along with TRC Group Manager Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana.
Lacsamana was not covered by the order because she retired in 2010.
Section 13 of the anti-graft law mandates the preventive suspension of any incumbent public official facing a valid graft charge. It seeks to prevent accused public officers from intimidating or influencing witnesses or tampering with documentary evidence considering their powerful position.
The defendants argued that fears that they may tamper with evidence are not justified because documents relevant to the case are already with the Office of the Ombudsman, the prosecution, and the court.
But the court dismissed their arguments.
“The Court, likewise, finds untenable the argument of the accused assailing the failure of the prosecution to present adequate evidence to implicate them and to convincingly show that they participated in the commission of the crime charged,” the Sandiganbayan said.
It cited the case of Beroña vs. Sandiganbayan wherein the Supreme Court held that questions on the sufficiency of evidence is irrelevant in imposing preventive suspension because it is not a penalty.
Some of the defendants also argued that their suspension will deprive them of their only source of income.
But the court said that this claim “cannot override the mandatory character of Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019.”
“Finally, it must be stressed that preventive suspension is not a penalty. Should the accused be acquitted of the charges against them, they shall be entitled to reinstatement and to the salaries and benefits that they failed to receive during the period that they were suspended,” it said.
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez and concurred in by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, who leads the court’s Third Division, and Associate Justice Samuel Martires.