Ex-lawmaker tried for ‘pork’ raps

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FORMER Rep. Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur will stand trial for a slew of criminal charges in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.

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The Sandiganbayan’s Second Division denied Plaza’s motion for reconsideration on its ruling finding probable cause against the former lawmaker.

Plaza is facing graft, malversation and direct bribery charges. He is accused of receiving at least P42.1 million in kickbacks from 2004 to 2010 by pouring his PDAF allocation to bogus projects through non-governmental organizations (NGO) allegedly run by Janet Lim-Napoles.

“After a careful assessment of the issues and arguments presented in the pleadings, the Court resolves to deny the motion questioning the existence of probable cause in these cases,” the court said in a nine-page resolution.

The ruling was penned by Chairperson Teresita Diaz-Baldos and concurred in by Associate Justices Napoleon Inoturan and Maria Cristina Cornejo.

In February, the Office of the Ombudsman filed charges against Plaza and several others in connection with the multimillion-peso PDAF scam as well as separate complaints against four other former lawmakers – Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of Masbate (now Governor), Edgar Valdez of the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC), Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro, and Samuel Dangwa of Benguet.

In upholding the finding of probable, the Sandiganbayan cited the case of Senator Estrada
vs. Office of the Ombudsman wherein the Supreme Court (SC) stressed that “in concluding that there is probable cause, it suffices that it is believed that the act or omission complained of constitutes the very offense charged.”

The SC added that the merits of the accusations or defenses as well as the admissibility and veracity of testimonies presented are matters “better ventilated during the trial proper of the case.”

In February, Plaza filed an Omnibus Motion for Judicial Determination of Probable Cause and asked the Sandiganbayan to dismiss the charges against him saying his inclusion in the case was “erroneous” and that he was implicated “on inadmissible evidence.”

Plaza argued that there is no probable cause since the alleged scheme was based merely on the whistleblowers’ statements.

But the Sandiganbayan said the veracity of the statements of Ben Hur Luy will be determined during the trial proper.

The court however reduced Plaza’s bail.

The Ombudsman had recommended a bail of P30,000 for each graft case, P40,000 for each count of malversation, and P20,000 for each direct bribery charge.

Plaza asked the court reduce his bail to P30,000 for graft, P40,000 for malversation, and P20,000 in the two direct bribery charges.

The court agreed to cut the bail by half if paid in cash.

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