The Sandiganbayan’s Special Fourth Division stood pat on its October 18, 2016 ruling to try the three graft cases filed against former Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) chairman and now Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay and former LWUA official Wilfredo Feleo Jr. in connection with the alleged anomalous purchase of 60 percent of a bank’s stocks in 2009.
The court also upheld its decision to separately hold a trial on the charge of violation of the Manual of Regulation for Banks filed against Pichay and Feleo and upheld the dismissal of the complaint against former Wellex Group Inc. executive Sherwin Gatchalian, now a senator, and other private individuals.
“A careful and painstaking review of the Information and all the records of the preliminary investigation shows that there is no factual basis or legal argument that would show or lead a reasonable mind to conclude that the accused [then-]public officials and [then-]private individuals conspired with each other to commit the crime charged. The only ambivalent fact on record to connect each of the private co-accused, which became the basis for the filing of the Information, is that each of them assigned their shares to LWUA. But then again, mere assignment of the shares of stock of ESBI (Express Savings Bank Inc.) does not ipso facto lead the reasonable mind to conclude that there is conspiracy,” the court said.
ESBI, a local thrift bank based in Laguna, was owned by Wellex Group and Forum Pacific Inc. (FPI).
Saying the private individuals did not benefit the deal, the anti-graft court dismissed the case against WGI executives including William Gatchalian, Dee Hua Gatchalian, Yolanda Dela Cruz, Elvira Ting, and Kenneth Gatchalian, and; then-FPI executives including now Valenzuela Rep. Weslie Gatchalian, Geronimo Velasco Jr., Arthur Ponsaran, Peter Salud, Rogelio Garcia, Lamberto Mercado Jr., Evelyn dela Rosa, and Joaquin Obieta.
Gatchalian thanked the court for its decision.
“Integrity is the most meaningful measure of a person’s worth as a public servant. Knowing this, I have tried my best to wield the powers of government vested in me with honor, transparency, and accountability during my 17-year career in public service. Hopefully, the triumph of truth over the baseless allegations unfairly thrown against me and family will redeem our reputations in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people,” he said in a statement.