LAGUNA Lake Development Authority (LLDA) General Manager Jose Romeo (J.R.) Nereus Acosta has asked the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division to reconsider a ruling that found him guilty of graft.
The case stemmed from the release of P5.5-million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation to a private entity in 2002 when he was the congressional representative of Bukidnon’s first district.
Likewise found guilty was his mother, former Municipal Mayor Socorro Acosta of Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. She and Nereus, who is presidential adviser for environmental concerns, were sentenced to six up to 10 years in prison with perpetual disqualification from public office.
“The judgment of the Honorable Court is based on a misapprehension of facts and an incorrect application of the Local Government Code,” the defense said in a joint motion for reconsideration filed on Tuesday, wherein it asked the court to acquit the defendants.
The defense argued that there was “no irregularity” in the release of the funds by Nereus to Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative [BVPC].
“Considering that the P5.5 million PDAF remains in the books of the Municipality of Manolo Fortich as receivables from BVPC, the latter could still be made to account for any deficiency in liquidation, negating any undue injury to the government,” the defense said.
The defense also argued that there was no manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence in the grant of the PDAF to BVPC.
It also said that the court did not give credence to the testimonies of several witnesses who were presented to prove that the fund was liquidated and spent for its intended purpose, which include livelihood programs for its members.
The Office of the Ombudsman charged the two respondents before the Sandiganbayan in 2009 for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
In its ruling, the court found that “no reason or justification was shown on why the BVPC was chosen to be the recipient of the P5.5 million.”
The transfer of the fund was also not covered by any written agreement and nor was it done with the approval or concurrence by the municipal council, the court added.
The court also noted that BVPC is a cooperative formed and organized by, among others, Juan C. Acosta, Socorro O. Acosta and Ma. Nemia O. Bornidor, father, mother and aunt, respectively, of accused J.R. Acosta.
The defense however argued that Socorro’s being a cooperator of BVPC in 1998 was not conclusive proof that she was still connected with the cooperative when it accepted the fund in 2002.
It also pointed out that her name does not appear as chairman, director, or officer in BVPC’s annual report in 2001.
The defense also argued that it was Socorro’s ministerial duty as then-mayor to accept the fund and ensure that the proceeds are conveyed to the named recipient, BVPC.
In its same decision, the court also acquitted Nereus in a separate graft case “for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In this case, the Ombudsman alleged that Nereus caused undue injury to Talakag town in Bukidnon and gave unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries, Inc. (Binhi, Inc.) — a private entity of which Juan Acosta and Ma. Nemia Bornidor were the incorporators based on the charge sheet — by allegedly transferring the solar tunnel dryer bought by the municipality for official purpose to the use and management of Binhi, Inc. in 2001.
The court also acquitted Nereus and his aunt Bornidor in connection with the release of P2.5 million from his PDAF allocation as financial assistance to Binhi, Inc. coursed through the municipality of Talakag in 2001.