The Sandiganbayan has stood pat on its ruling that convicted former Sarangani governor Miguel Escobar and former agricultural officer Romeo Miole in a malversation case that stemmed from diverted sacks of rice meant for calamity-stricken farmers and fisherfolk in 2001.
In October last year, the court’s Third Division sentenced them to 10 up to 18 years’ imprisonment.
Voting 3-2, the ant-graft court’s special Third Division denied Escobar and Miole’s motions for reconsideration on the decision in a resolution promulgated on September 22.
“The court maintains its ruling that Escobar and Miole acted negligently and, thus, are guilty of malversation through negligence,” it said.
The sacks of rice were meant for farmers and fisherfolk affected by heavy rains and floods brought by La Niña in 2001 but the Commission on Audit (COA) found that the actual recipients were mostly government officials of the province.
In its decision last year, the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division found that “[t]he RIVs [requisition and issuance vouchers]submitted by the OPAG [Office of the Provincial Agriculturist] showed that the sacks of rice were indeed distributed to municipal and barangay [village]officials on June 30, 2002, one week before the barangay election.”
Escobar said in his motion for reconsideration that he did not have control or custody of the items because the RIVs, which he said he did not sign, were supposedly kept away from him by Miole.
He added that he was unaware of the distribution of the sacks of rice until tribal chiefs went to his office asking for the same.
Miole said the sacks of rice did reach the intended beneficiaries and argued that the prosecution failed to present a beneficiary who would testify that he/she did not receive the aid.
But the court said in its resolution, “To reiterate, Miole conceptualized the Project Design for the Program and then implemented it. In allowing the distribution of the sacks of rice to the municipal and barangay officials, he consented to the appropriation thereof by persons who were not the listed beneficiaries of the program.”
“Escobar, despite his insistence that he knew nothing of the implementation of the program until after the fact, is no less guilty because a project involving the distribution of 1,875 sacks of rice that took place in his province and which he was duty-bound to supervise should not have escaped his attention. It would even be considered as an admission of his negligence because even after learning of the distribution of the sacks of rice, he did not do anything. He only created a committee to investigate the matter when the provincial auditor was looking into the transaction,” the Sandiganbayan added.
The court thus denied their motions for reconsideration.
Associate Justice Alex Quiroz penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Maria Cristina Cornejo.
Associate Justices Jose Hernandez and Samuel Martires dissented.