The Sandiganbayan has sentenced former Gov. Miguel Escobar of Sarangani and agricultural officer Romeo Miole to 10 to 18 years imprisonment after finding them guilty of malversation in connection with diverted relief goods meant for indigenous tribes and farmers affected by heavy rain and flood brought by La Niña in 2001.
The court also fined them P1.44 million and perpetually disqualified them from holding public office.
Referring to the audit conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA), it said, “[T]he annual audit report reveals that the actual recipients were mostly government officials of Sarangani province and not farmers and fisher folks who were victims of the flashflood.”
“The 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,” the court said.
State auditors also found, among others, that provincial officials were unable to identify where the hybrid corn and rice seeds were sown.
In 2001, the provincial government launched the Sagip Taniman Program under which 1,875 sacks of rice and 240 sacks of said seeds were supposedly delivered.
But in 2002, tribal leaders complained that they did not receive any relief goods or assistance.
Escobar said that he formed an investigative committee after the tribal leaders approached him regarding the matter, but the court noted that the probe yielded no action.
“The court finds it hard to believe that a project involving distribution of 1,875 sacks of rice that took place in his province and which he was duty-bound to supervise escaped his attention,” it said.
Miole, according to the court, has direct knowledge that the relief goods went to municipal and barangay officials.
Both defendants also signed several documents in connection with the program, it said.
The court then rendered judgment finding Escobar and Miole “guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the component crime of malversation of public funds.”