FORMER Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) Commissioner Alfredo Po on Thursday was charged with estafa for allegedly pocketing more than P700,000 in connection with the oath-taking of mechanical engineers.
The Office of the Ombudsman filed the charges after Po failed to remit a total of P728,539.59 worth of ticket sales, which he allegedly spent in his personal use, while serving as member of the Board of Mechanical Engineers (BME) from May 2003 to 2005.
Board passers are inducted to the Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers (PSME) during the oath-taking ceremony, which requires the coordination of BME and PSME.
Two fees were collected during oath-taking: registration fees, which covers certificates and professional identification cards paid to the Professional Regulation Commission; and membership fees, which is directed to PSME.
The BME has no hand in the collection of these fees.
When Po became BME chairman on May 26, 2005, he changed the collection process for the November 2005 and May 2006 oath-taking ceremony.
During the November 2005 oath-taking, Po allegedly directed BME-PRC secretary Ofelia Dichoso to give him “all PSME collections.”
Hotel meals and other expenses reached P435,760.41, leaving a balance of more than P700,000 in the hands of Po. The PSME was forced to pay for the souvenir program, plaques, medals from its operating funds.
In his counter-affidavit, Po debunked Dichoso’s claim, saying that the cash is intact and in the safekeeping of PSME officials.
Po also presented the affidavit of his witness Anthony Cristobal, who Dichoso pointed as having witnessed that the secretary remitted P458,650 to Po.
“I am quite sure that I did not witness anybody for that matter at anytime handling money to Po,” said Cristobal. He admitted that he does not recall Dichoso as it has been more than seven years since he drafted his affidavit.
“After a considered evaluation of the evidence on record, the Ombudsman finds probable cause to indict Po for estafa,” the Ombudsman resolution read.
Graft investigators said that all elements of estafa are complete.
The Ombudsman said that the PSME collections were turned over to Po, who merely held it in trust.
Po’s receipt of the fund gave rise to an obligation for him to remit the same to PSME, the fiscals added.
“However, accused once in possession of the amount, contrary to his obligation to remit the same to PSME, feloniously misapplied [the cash]to his personal use,” the charge sheet read.
It added that despite demand to turn over and remit the money, “accused failed, refused and denied receipt of the money.”
The Ombudsman said PMSE’s failure to demand from Po the remittance of the cash does not extinguish his culpability.
“Demand has been made by the group mechanical engineering practitioners. They have interest in the subject fund as they are members of PSME, hence, an injured party,” the Ombudsman ruled.
However, the Ombudsman dropped the graft charge against him since it is not Po’s duty to hold in trust the PSME collection as it purely belongs to PSME, hence, private, not public, in nature, an element which the Anti-Graft Law requires.
Also, the cash that Po allegedly pocketed was not given to him as a form of gratuity, which is essential in graft.
Po is already facing bribery charges for demanding P394,000 from businessman Ernesto de los Santos, who owns the building which the PRC is renting for its satellite office in Baguio City.