The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of former Metro Rail Transit 3 General Manager Al Vitangcol 3rd after he refused to enter any plea on Thursday during his arraignment over charges he is facing in connection with the award of an MRT 3 interim maintenance deal to a joint venture in 2012.
He is facing charges before the Sandiganbayan along with five others for alleged violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act as well as of Section 65, Paragraph C(1) in relation to Section 47 of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Before the charges were read, Vitangcol told the anti-graft court, “I am still in the process of engaging a competent legal counsel” and asked the court to give him 30 days to secure a lawyer first.
The court instead appointed Manuel Patrick Lauron of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) as his ex-officio lawyer for purposes of the arraignment.
“We will not be entering a plea, Your Honor,” Lauron said after the charges were read by Third Division Clerk of Court Dennis Pulma.
According to Vitangcol, he will not enter any plea without a counsel of choice.
In an interview after the arraignment, he said he would have pleaded not guilty if he had his own lawyer.
Arraigned with him were PH Trams incorporators Marlo dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit and Federico Remo, who were also named respondents.
Dela Cruz, Maralit and Remo pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Meanwhile, the court deferred the arraignment of PH Trams incorporators Arturo Soriano (provincial accountant of Pangasinan) and Wilson de Vera who were also named respondents because they have pending motions for reconsideration.
The court reset Soriano and de Vera’s arraignment to March 14.
The Ombudsman alleged that the maintenance deal was awarded to the joint venture of PH Trams and Comm Builders and Technology Philippines Corporation (CB&T) even when one of the PH Trams incorporators, Soriano, was Vitangcol’s supposed relative (uncle-in-law).
Section 3(e) of the anti-graft law 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.
Meanwhile, Section 3 (h) prohibits public officials from having pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in which they take part in their official capacity, or in which they are prohibited by the Constitution or any law from having any interest.
The respondents were also accused of violating Section 65, Paragraph C(1) in relation to Section 47 of the Government Procurement Reform Act over the submission of an affidavit of disclosure, which declared that none of PH Trams’ incorporators is related by consanguinity or affinity up to the third civil degree with any member of the procuring teams.
According to the Ombudsman, PH Trams would have been automatically disqualified from participating in the procurement of the deal if the respondents did not allegedly conceal that Vitangcol was related by affinity to Soriano.
All the respondents are out on bail.