The Sandiganbayan’s First Division has ordered prosecutors to show additional pieces of evidence in eight graft cases against four of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.’s co-accused in 16 graft charges in connection with the pork barrel scam.
This came as the anti-graft court dismissed seven counts of graft leveled against Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and employees Lalaine Paule, Marilou Bare and Rosario Nuñez.
“The warrants of arrest against them are recalled and set aside in these cases,” it said, referring to the graft cases against Relampagos, Paule, Bare and Nuñez docketed as SB-14-CRM-0270, 0271, 0274, 0277, 0278, 0281 and 0282.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have five days from notice to present additional evidence to establish probable cause in the graft cases docketed as SB-14-CRM-0268, 0269, 0272, 0273, 0275, 0276, 0279 and 0280.
“Their arraignment on these cases is therefore deferred,” the court said.
In a chance interview with reporters on Tuesday, Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, an acting prosecutor in the “pork” cases, said he is yet to take a look at the Sandiganbayan’s resolution.
“I’ll take a look. I was part of the team [that]investigated the case [but I did not see the court’s resolution],” Justiniano told reporters.
When asked, he also said that it would not affect the whole case.
In an eight-page resolution, the First Division ruled to admit the amended graft charges against all of the accused, as it granted a plea of government lawyers who had sought permission to file amendments.
Associate Justice Rafael Lagos penned the resolution, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Efren dela Cruz and Rodolfo Ponferrada.
“The court now turns to resolving whether there is probable cause against Relampagos et al. based on the amended Informations declared to be admitted herein,” the First Division said.
“It might not be amiss to state that had the court known from the outset that a Sub-ARO [Sub-Allotment Release Order] was a completely different document from a SARO, and that a Sub-ARO was not issued by the DBM, no probable cause finding would have been issued against Relampagos et al. in the first place,” it added.
Even assuming that what was inaccurately referred to as Sub-ARO was actually a SARO, the court said there is still “doubtful existence of probable cause” against Relampagos, et al. because the allegation of undue haste is not supported by evidence.
Nothing in the records establishes the normal time frame for the processing of the SARO that would support the allegation that it was done with “undue haste,” it added.
The court noted that only five of the 12 SAROs in the Office of the Ombudsman’s joint resolution were signed by Relampagos.
Whether in the original or amended informations, SARO numbers were not indicated, it added.
“Therefore, even with the admission of the amended Information which incorporates now the term SARO instead of Sub-ARO, the Court cannot find any probable cause against Relampagos, et al. because of the obvious fact that they had no participation in the issuance of the 7 SAROs signed by then DBM Secretary [Rolando] Andaya,” the court said.
“Consequently, all the Informations, which rely on these 7 SARO’s signed by Andaya as a basis to indict Relampagos, et al., should be dismissed,” it added.
The court partially granted an omnibus motion for reconsideration of Relampagos, Paule, Bare and Nuñez.
In their appeal last June 25, they sought the reconsideration of the court’s resolution on June 19 that ruled probable cause.
“Despite being required by the court to comment, the prosecution opted not to file any comment on the aforesaid omnibus motion but instead filed the aforesaid consolidated motion,” the court said.
Relampagos et al. argued that there is no probable cause against them because they never facilitated the issuance of a Sub-Allotment Release Order (Sub-aro) or Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) with undue haste, nor did they receive kickbacks for doing so.
Relampagos said he signed only five out of 12 SAROs mentioned in the OMB’s joint resolution on March 31.
Prosecutors proposed corrections in their consolidated motion such as the word “Sub” to “Special” in sub-paragraph (b) in all the charges, names of the accused and official description of their government positions, disbursement voucher number and the particular non-government organization.
The consolidated motion was to address the issue raised in the ombnibus motion filed by Relampagos, et al. necessitating the term Sub-ARO be corrected and changed to SARO. “Without this change, the prosecution’s case would surely falter,” the court said.