The Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division has thumbed down former Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT 3) General Manager Al Vitangcol 3rd’s plea to dismiss graft charges filed against him last year.
In a resolution, the court denied the motion to quash that he earlier filed.
“The arraignment of the accused shall proceed as previously scheduled on March 16, 2017, at 8:30 in the morning,” it ruled.
Vitangcol, along with Wilson de Vera, was charged with violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) in two separate charge sheets filed by the Office of the Ombudsman last November.
One case—docketed as SB-16-CRM-1207—stemmed from an alleged extortion try on representatives of Czech company Inekon Group in connection with the contract or transaction for the supply of Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) in 2012, while the other—docketed as SB-16-CRM-1208—stemmed from an alleged request for the Inekon representatives to forge a joint venture deal with a group in connection with the contract or transaction for the train system’s maintenance service.
Last month, the anti-graft court’s Sixth Division reset Vitangcol’s arraignment to March 16 pending resolution of his motion to quash wherein he argued that the cases fall under the Regional Trial Court’s jurisdiction because these do not allege bribery or any injury to the government.
He cited RA 10660, which amended Presidential Decree 1606 and which took effect on May 5, 2015.
But the court said it “cannot sustain the above contention of the accused-movant,” agreeing with the prosecution that “the amendment introduced by RA 10660 under its Section 2 is not applicable in these cases. Section 5 of RA 10660 provides that the aforesaid amendment vesting jurisdiction in the Regional Trial Court shall apply only to cases arising from offenses committed after RA 10660 took effect.”
Vitangcol also argued that that the facts charged in SB-16-CRM-1207 do not constitute an offense because they accused him of attempted extortion when there is no such offense as frustrated or attempted extortion.
The court, however, said in part that “[t]he offense charged against him in SB-16-CRM-1207 is for violation of Section 3 [b]of RA 3019 for ‘demanding, or requesting or attempting to extort money.’ It is not for ‘attempted extortion’ as indeed there may be no such defined and/or distinct offense or crime.”
Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada, who leads the court’s Sixth Division, penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr. and Karl Miranda.
Earlier, the Ombudsman’s office conducted a fact-finding investigation that was prompted by news reports on the alleged extortion try.
The Manila Times’ Chairman Emeritus Dante Ang was the first to report about the meetings held between Inekon officials and Vitangcol, who left office in 2014.
In filing charges last year, the Ombudsman’s office alleged that Vitangcol, through de Vera, attempted to extort money from Inekon representatives in connection with the contract or transaction for the supply of LRVs or supposedly in exchange for the selection of Inekon as supplier of the LRVs.
The Inekon representatives turned down the alleged request or demand for $30 million so the sum was supposedly reduced to $2.5 million, which they also refused.
Also, the Ombudsman alleged that Vitangcol, with the conspiracy of de Vera, requested or insisted to the Inekon representatives to forge a joint venture agreement with a group including de Vera for a 60-40 percent sharing agreement between Inekon and the group, respectively, in connection with the contract or transaction for the maintenance service of the MRT3 line.
The Inekon representatives turned down this alleged request or demand, it said.
Vitangcol has dismissed the charges as “baseless” and said that what the Ombudsman’s office filed “is just a purely harassment case against me.”
Meanwhile, de Vera pleaded not guilty last year in a conditional arraignment for purposes of a travel clearance that he sought from the court.
Both respondents are out on bail.