P2.1-M calamity fund spent on sub-machineguns in 2008
The Office of the Ombudsman has found ground to file graft and technical malversation charges before the Sandiganbayan against Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and several other officials in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of high-powered firearms when he was mayor of San Juan City (Metro Manila) in 2008.
Before his election to Congress, Ejercito served as the city’s mayor from 2001 to 2010. His mother, Guia Gomez, is the incumbent mayor while his father, former president Joseph Estrada, also led the former Rizal town from 1969 to 1986.
Ejercito represented San Juan City in Congress from 2010 to 2013 and was elected senator in 2013.
In a 20-page joint resolution, the Ombudsman found that the gun purchase was allegedly done without public bidding and that the supplier was not subjected to post-qualification.
There was a “hasty procurement of specific high-powered firearms of a particular brand sans competitive bidding and without any post-qualification, bolstered by bid documents bearing dates earlier than the publication of the invitation to bid, showing that an unwarranted benefit, advantage and preference” was accorded to the supplier, the resolution read.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said Ejercito “acted in concert with the members of the city council who authorized him to purchase firearms using the city’s calamity funds paving the way for the application of public funds for a purpose different from the one for which they were originally appropriated by law.”
Also facing charges for technical malversation as defined under the Revised Penal Code were: former Vice Mayor Leonardo Celles and then-Councilors Andoni Carballo, Vincent Pacheco, Angelino Mendoza, Dante Santiago, Rolando Bernardo, Grace Pardines, Domingo Sese, Francis Peralta, Edgardo Soriano, Jannah Ejercito-Surla, Franciso Zamora, Ramon Nakpil and Joseph Christopher Torralba.
The Ombudsman also found probable cause to file graft charges against the members of the Bids and Awards Committee—city administrator Ranulfo Dacalos, city treasurer Rosalinda Marasigan, city attorney Romualdo delos Santos, city budget officer Lorenza Ching and city engineer Danilo Mercado.
“Dacalos, Marasigan, Delos Santos, Mercado and Alicia Barazon [accountant]were also found guilty of misconduct and were ordered suspended without pay for six months,” the Ombudsman’s resolution read.
Ejercito sought the City Council’s approval in February 2008 to buy high-powered firearms using the city’s calamity fund. He justified the purchase by saying it was “an investment for disaster preparedness,” according to the Ombudsman.
The City Council went on to pass City Ordinance No. 9 (Series of 2008) authorizing the mayor to purchase the firearms for the San Juan Police Department.
In 2008, the respondents purchased three units of model K2 cal. 5.56mm sub-machine guns and 17 units of Daewoo model K1 cal. 5.56mm sub-machines guns totaling P2.1 million.
The Office of the Ombudsman, however, said the high-powered firearms are not among the items contemplated for disaster relief and mitigation under Department of Budget and Management-Department of the Interior and Local Government (DBM-DILG) Circular No. 2003-1.
More important, the Ombudsman said, “There was no declaration placing San Juan under a state of calamity.”
The graft charges pertain to alleged violation of Section 3(e) of the anti-graft law.
Section 3(e) prohibits public officials from causing undue injury to any party including the government, or giving a private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of their official functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.
Ejercito on Tuesday expressed surprise with the decision of the Ombudsman to indict him on the allegedly anomalous transaction.
“In the first place, I got surprised by the decision as I was not even paying attention to it. I thought the complaint would not prosper because it was filed anonymously. Second, I was very careful in handling documents when I was mayor,” he told reporters in Filipino.
“You must understand during those times, I was in the opposition, time ni Gloria Arroyo yan, magkamali lang ako diyan tiyak hindi ako makakalusot kaya yung mga panahong iyon napakamaingat ko, confident ako na walang lulusot na irregularity o anomaly [A mistake would put me in trouble during those times that’s why I was very careful],” the senator said as he referred to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was in power from 2001 to 2013.
According to Ejercito, he ordered the gun purchase because, at the time, the National Capital Region (Metro Manila) Police Office allegedly recalled the rifles issued to Metro Manila police units.
“That time, it was an urgent need. Ito yung panahon na marami ang holdapan, kidnap for ransom, pati yung restaurants pinapasok … naging very bold, naging very confident ang mga kriminal. Ako, bilang ama ng bayan, ay siyempre natakot kaya nagpa-purchase talaga ako ng firearms para yung aming pulis ay maarmahan namin [That was the time when there was a spate in robbery-holdup, kidnap for ransom, even restaurants were getting robbed. Criminals were very bold and confident. As the city’s father, I was alarmed that’s why I ordered the purchase so that we could arm our policemen],” the San Juan mayor at the time said.
He explained they used the calamity fund as it was the only available fund that they could use.
Ejercito said they would appeal the ruling and possibly elevate the case to the Court of Appeals.