The Sandiganbayan’s First Division has found probable cause to try the graft and malversation cases filed against Games and Amusement Board Chairman Abraham Kahlil Mitra and several others over the allegedly anomalous transfer of a P3-million fertilizer fund to a non-government organization (NGO) in 2004.
The Office of the Ombudsman filed the charges before the anti-graft court last month and the latter issued a resolution finding sufficient grounds against the accused dated September 30 and made public on Thursday.
Mitra, former representative of Palawan’s second district, posted P70,000 bail for his provisional liberty on Thursday before a warrant for his arrest was issued.
Also charged were former Executive Director Dennis Araullo, former Regional Technical Directors Gregorio Sangalang and Balagtas Torres, former Legislative Coordinator Lucille Odejar and former Regional Accountant Raymundo Braganza of the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office IV-B, as well as then-members of the Board of Trustees of the NGO GabayMasa Development Foundation Inc., – Margie Luz, Concha Idica, Ma. Cristina Vizcarra, Caridad Tajon, Melencio Punzalan and Rodolfo Luz.
Meanwhile, in a separate resolution, the court directed the Bureau of Immigration to hold the departure of the respondents.
A hold departure order bars defendants from leaving the country except upon prior permission from the court.
In filing the cases, the Ombudsman alleged that Mitra and his co-accused gave “unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to GabayMasa and cause[d]undue injury to the government” by selecting and accrediting GabayMasa as the collaborating NGO to implement the P3-million fertilizer fund “despite the latter’s lack of qualifications under COA (Commission On Audit) Circular No. 96-003.”
The respondents also allegedly “immediately” approved the release and transfer of P1.95 million to the NGO, representing 65 percent of the P3 million, which the Ombudsman called “in flagrant violation” of the provision in a Memorandum Of Agreement (MOA) that allowed the transfer only upon its approval.
On Monday, Mitra’s camp filed a Motion to Quash, asking the graft court to void and dismiss the cases against him “on the ground that the Office of the Ombudsman and/or the Prosecution violated his constitutional right to speedy disposition of the case against him pursuant to Section 16, Article III of the 1987 Constitution.”
According the defense, it took the Ombudsman about five years and four months to finish its investigation.
In an urgent motion it earlier filed, his lawyers said there is no evidence that Mitra committed or participated in the commission of the acts alleged by the Ombudsman.
“Nothing in Article VI in the 1987 Constitution provides that a member of the House of Representatives (or that of the Senate) has the duty to have custody and control of the funds or property of the government, particularly that of the DA, which belongs to the executive branch of the government. If he has no duty, then he cannot be held accountable for government funds (or property). Such duty is determinative of his culpability,” the defense said.
It was claimed that the alleged vouchers and checks do not show that Mitra approved the release of the funds to GabayMasa, and that he endorsed the NGO based on a list by the Department of Agriculture (DA) before the MOA was signed.
The defendant also argued that Mitra “did not select or accredit said NGO” because it was the DA’s duty.
“If GabayMasa was not actually qualified to be entrusted with the funds of DA or to be an implementing agency of a government activity or project, at the very least, the DA should not have turned over its funds to said NGO,” it said.