THE Sandiganbayan has assumed jurisdiction over the 34 counts of falsification, graft, and malversation charges filed against former Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan after he pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Tuesday.
Ampatuan and several others are facing charges in connection with the P16.3 million government fund allegedly made to appear to have been disbursed for purchases of food supplies from a “fictitious and/or non-existent” supplier in 2009.
Ampatuan was assisted by his lawyer when he entered the not-guilty plea during his arraignment before the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division.
The graft court has scheduled the pretrial of the cases on August 24.
The court also reset to July 17 the arraignment of Datu Ali Abpi, Al Haj, who was the provincial engineer and member of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) when the alleged anomalous transaction was made.
Ampatuan and Datu Ali Abpi, Al Haj, have posted surety bonds for their provisional liberty.
The others facing charges but still at large are: John Estelito Dollosa Jr., former provincial accountant; then-provincial general services officer Kasan Macapendeg, who was BAC chairman; and BAC members – then-provincial treasurer Osmeña Bandila, former provincial administrator Norie Unas, and former OIC-provincial engineer Landap Guinaid, who was reportedly killed in a 2016 ambush.
The graft case and 34 counts of falsification of public documents stemmed from the P16,317,559 fund allegedly disbursed for the purchase of various food supplies from Henry Merchandising which, the Ombudsman said, turned out to be “fictitious and/or non-existent.”
Meanwhile, the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division reset to September 4 Ampatuan’s arraignment for 145 counts of separate graft cases in connection with the alleged misuse in 2009 of P72.26 million for the repair of school building, the amount disbursed to four “non-existent” lumber companies.
Ampatuan, who is also on trial as a respondent in the Maguindanao massacre case, faces a total of 272 corruption cases covering three batches of charges alleging anomalous disbursement of public funds in Maguindanao.