The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division has denied a plea of dismissed North Cotabato Vice Gov. Gregorio Ipong to dismiss the graft and malversation cases filed against him over the alleged misappropriation of P9.6-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in 2007 when he was a congressional representative.
Ipong earlier filed a motion dated June 13 seeking a judicial determination of probable cause. Before it was filed, the court found basis to try the cases.
In a resolution promulgated on August 24, the court said it “had already determined, as mandated, the existence of probable cause.”
“Relative to the other grounds raised by accused-movant Ipong in support of his motion, this court finds the same to be matters of evidence best threshed out in a full-blown trial on the merits, where both parties may exhaustively ventilate their respective positions,” it added in part.
The court thus denied Ipong’s motion for lack of merit.
Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, who concurrently leads the court’s Third Division, and by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez.
Ipong, who earlier posted bail for his provisional liberty, was charged in May along with former Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC) diector general Antonio Ortiz, former deputy director general Dennis Cunanan and former chief accountant Marivic Jover.
Alfredo Ronquillo, who was from the non-government organization (NGO) Aaron Foundation Philippines Inc. (AFPI) at the time material to the charges, was also included.
Ipong’s camp said in part in its motion that he “did not cause undue injury to the government and give unwarranted benefit to Ortiz and TLRC” and that “Ipong merely recommended” the AFPI “to actually pursue the objectives of his livelihood project and it is TLRC which actually implemented the project and responsible to monitor compliance with the terms of the project implementation by AFPI.”
The defense said Ipong was “not responsible for the accreditation of AFPI.” His task, it said, “was merely to earmark and/or allocate a portion of his PDAF and to ‘recommend’ to the implementing government agencies his NGO of choice. TLRC was clearly not duty-bound to accept his selection/endorsement.”
The Office of the Ombudsman alleged in the charge sheets that he “unilaterally chose and indorsed” the supposedly “unaccredited and unqualified” AFPI as “project partner” in implementing PDAF-funded livelihood projects, which allegedly turned out to be non-existent.
In its motion, Ipong’s camp said “it should be emphasized that his duty, as a [then-congressman], is simply to legislate bills as well as to earmark projects within his [then]congressional district. It is not his responsibility to monitor the implementation of said projects because that already pertains to an executive function.”
The defense added that Ipong did not have custody and control over his PDAF.
“The allocation for the livelihood project intended to be realized through AFPI was released to TLRC…Ipong was not in charge of the public funds but merely an endorser of the livelihood project,” the defense said in part.
His act of sending an official letter endorsing AFPI “does not constitute criminal inducement,” it added.