THE Sandiganbayan on Tuesday issued a hold departure order against former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) chairman Efraim Genuino and his co-accused in the graft complaint over the alleged misuse of Pagcor funds.
Also barred from leaving the country without the court’s permission are Edward King, Rafael Francisco, Jose Benedicto, Rene Figueroa, Ester Hernandez, and Valente Custodio, who are also facing malversation and graft charges at the anti-graft court.
The seven former Pagcor officials would have to file a motion to travel and provide details of their flight before the Sandiganbayan can decide to let them leave the country.
Genuino has denied using the agency’s funds to promote a foundation for the May 2010 elections. He also denied charges that he channeled P63 million to Batang Iwas Droga (Bida) Foundation to improve his chances of getting a seat in Congress as a party-list representative during the May 2010 elections.
In his 30-page motion, Genuino said the disbursement of P63.1 million for advertisement placement in favor of Bida was “neither illegal nor fraudulent.”
“The advertisements were neither designed to increase the popularity of Bida nor promote accused’s purported political ambitions,” he said.
He explained that the promotional materials from December 2008 to 2009 “were designed to promote social awareness of the evils of drugs use” as prescribed in the Pagcor’s socio-civic duties.
Commission on Audit (COA) auditor Luis Gimenez did not pursue an audit observation against Pagcor when, upon inquiry, Genuino said “he had no plans of running for public office.”
The former Pagcor official said the disbursements were overboard since they were covered by 18 board resolutions.
Genuino also said not all of Pagcor funds are public.
“Pagcor funds are not generated by virtue of a statutory levy or by the exercise of the state’s taxing or police powers. Pagcor is a propriety business entity operated for profit. It does not partake of the national budget under the General Appropriations Act and is thus independent from the national budget,” he argued.
Defense lawyers Benjamin Santos and Ramon Esguerra said COA only audits five percent of franchise tax and 50 percent of Pagcor’s gross earnings which is the share of the government.
“Pagcor’s funds are taxed in accordance with the parameters set by its charter . . . Significantly, Pagcor’s income from related services is subject to income tax, indicative of its private character,” they said.
Genuino asked the Sandiganbayan Third Division to review the findings of the Ombudsman on the probable cause and to junk the case altogether for apparent lack of it.