• SC orders air firm owner’s prosecution over Naia project

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    THE Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the prosecution of Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco) owner Henry Go in connection with a questionable agreement with the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal III construction.

    The court had reversed a ruling of the Sandiganbayan junking a criminal case against Go because he is a private individual, not a public official, who was charged alone in the graft raps.

    In a full-court decision, the tribunal granted a petition for review on certiorari filed by the People of the Philippines, paving the way for continuation of trial against Go before the Sandiganbayan for violation of the anti-graft law.

    “Wherefore, the petition is granted. The resolution of the Sandiganbayan dated June 2, 2005, granting respondent’s motion to quash, is hereby reversed and set aside. The Sandiganbayan is forthwith directed to proceed with deliberate dispatch in the disposition of [the criminal case.]”

    On September 16, 2004, the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon found probable cause to indict, among others, Go for violation of Section 3(g) of Republic Act (RA) 3019. While there was also a finding of probable cause against then-DOTC Secretary Arturo Enrile, he was no longer indicted because he died prior to the issuance of the verdict.

    An information filed by the Office of the Ombudsman dated January 13, 2005 with the Sandiganbayan charged that in July 1997, Enrile conspired with Go, Piatco chairman and president, by entering into a concession agreement after a project for the construction of the Naia International Passenger Terminal III (Naia IPT III) was awarded to Paircargo Consortium/Piatco.

    The agreement substantially amended the draft concession agreement covering the construction of the Naia IPT III under RA 6957, as amended by RA 7718 (Build-Operate-Transfer Law), specifically the provision on public utility revenues, as well as assumption by the government of liabilities of Piatco if the aviation firm defaults under Article IV, Section 4.04 (b) and (c) in relation to Article 1.06 of the concession agreement, whose terms are more beneficial to Piatco while manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.

    A motion to quash filed by Go dated April 22, 2005, showed that the Piatco owner, the lone accused in the case, is a private person and his alleged co-conspirator-public official (Enrile) was already deceased long before a case was filed in court.

    For lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused, the anti-graft Sandiganbayan granted the motion and the information was ordered quashed and dismissed.

    “At the outset, it bears to reiterate the settled rule that private persons, when acting in conspiracy with public officers, may be indicted and, if found guilty, held liable for the pertinent offenses under Section 3 of RA 3019, in consonance with the avowed policy of the anti-graft law to repress certain acts of public officers and private persons alike constituting graft or corrupt practices act or which may lead thereto.

    “This is the controlling doctrine as enunciated by this court in previous cases, among which is a case involving herein private respondent,” the SC said.

    “Respondent contends that by reason of the death of Secretary Enrile, there is no public officer who was charged in the information and, as such, prosecution against respondent may not prosper. The court is not persuaded,” it added.

    “It is true that by reason of Secretary Enrile’s death, there is no longer any public officer with whom respondent can be charged for violation of RA 3019. It does not mean, however, that the allegation of conspiracy between them can no longer be proved or that their alleged conspiracy is already expunged.

    “The only thing extinguished by the death of Secretary Enrile is his criminal liability. His death did not extinguish the crime nor did it remove the basis of the charge of conspiracy between him and private respondent.”

    “Stated differently, the death of Secretary Enrile does not mean that there was no public officer who allegedly violated Section 3 (g) of RA 3019. In fact, the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon found probable cause to indict Secretary Enrile for infringement of Sections 3 (e) and (g) of RA 3019.

    “Were it not for his death, he should have [also]been charged.”

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