Supreme Court (SC)

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the 2017 resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) which ordered the filing of graft and malversation cases against former Cagayan de Oro’s lone district Rep. Constantino G. Jaraula, several government officials, and private individuals in the alleged irregular purchase of P3 million worth of bottled liquid fertilizer in 2004.

Also ordered charged by the OMB were Jose F. Quitazol, Sr. as regional technical director of the Local Government Unit Support, Antonio N. Rosal as chairman of the committee on accreditation, Eduardo B. Lecciones, Jr. as regional executive director– all from the Department of Agriculture (DA), Field Regional Unit VII — Ma. Reina L. Lumantas as budget officer III, Claudio B. Artazo as accountant III, Martino N. Cajita as assistant regional director — all from the DA Regional Field Unit X;

Joel S. Rudinas also of DA; Godofredo P. Bajas (Bajas) as city agriculturist, and Evelyn D. De Leon, Anabelle E. Luy, Maria Fe E. Escabarte, Jose G. Ardias, Gertrudes E. Kilapkilap, Henry L. Bucalin, and Luzviminda 0. Bucalin as officers and members of Philippine Social Development Foundation, Inc. (PSDFI).

The SC resolution, which affirmed the OMB’s order and made public last Feb. 18, involved the petition filed by Jaraula. It was not known immediately if the other public officials and private individuals also filed their petition with the SC.

On May 7, 2004, the P3 million fund for DA’s Farm Inputs/Farm Implements Program (FIFI) was released to the lone congressional district of Cagayan de Oro City. The money was then turned over to PSDFI for the purchase of 3,750 bottles of liquid fertilizers for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries.

The Commission on Audit (COA), in its report, found that the 10,000 bottles of liquid fertilizer purchased for the entire Region X was “overpriced.” Based on COA canvass, a bottle was sold only for P133.50 while the purchase price, including those for the lone district of Cagayan de Oro City, was at P800 per bottle.

The COA also found that there was no list of farmer-beneficiaries submitted and, thus, there was reportedly no actual purchase nor distribution of the bottled fertilizer.

Jaraula denied the charges filed against him. He said the COA report did not even allege that he was in custody or in control of the P3 million funds as he merely received the 3,750 bottles of fertilizers.

In fact, he pointed out that his endorsement of PSDFI was not an order that it be chosen from among the NGOs (non-government organizations), but a mere request. He also said that the bottles of fertilizer were received by the city agriculturist who distributed them to farmers in 40 rural barangays and 25 inter-land barangays.

He also said that he monitored the distribution of the fertilizer to the farmers who expressed to him their gratitude.

In a resolution dated April 10, 2017, the OMB found probable cause against Jaraula, Quitazol, Rosal, Lecciones, Lumantas, Artazo, Cajita, Rudinas, Bajas, De Leon, Luy, Escabarte, Ardias, Kilapkilap, Henry Bucalin and Luzviminda Bucalin for the crime of malversation under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; and probable cause against Jaraula and De Leon for violation of Section 3(g) of RA 3019.

The OMB, however, found no evidence on the allegation that the purchase of the bottled liquid fertilizers was overpriced.

When Jaraula and the other respondents’ motion for reconsideration was denied by the OMB on Nov. 27, 2017, the former legislator elevated the case to the SC.

Jaraula also told the SC he was denied his right to speedy disposition of the charges filed against him.

Resolving Jaraula’s petition, the SC said:

“We find that the Ombudsman committed no grave abuse of discretion in finding probable cause. Its findings were based on evidence on record and on its consideration of the allegations and assertions of all the parties.

“The Ombudsman did not have to inquire as to whether there was sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. It is enough that the factual circumstances established a prima facie case against the respondent.

“Ultimately, ‘[a] finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that more likely than not, the accused committed the crime.’ It does not mean absolute certainty, but is merely based on opinion and reasonable belief.

“Jaraula contends that his right to speedy disposition of the case was violated in view of the period that has lapsed, i.e., nine years from the time that the alleged irregularities were discovered by the COA until a formal complaint was filed against him by the FIO-Ombudsman (Field Investigation Office) and almost three years from the time he submitted his Counter-Affidavit until the Ombudsman issued its Resolution, finding probable cause, manifesting inordinate delay. The argument deserves scant consideration.

“For the purposes of determining inordinate delay, the period to be reckoned with is the filing of the formal complaint by the FIO-Ombudsman on Aug. 4, 2014, and not from the time that the COA conducted its audit investigation.

“After the complaint was filed, the 16 respondents were directed to submit their respective counter-affidavits. In Jaraula’s case, he filed the same on Oct. 12, 2014. Subsequently, a Resolution finding probable cause to indict the respondents was finalized on July 24, 2017 and was approved by the Ombudsman on July 31, 2017.

“At this point, only two years and 11 months had passed. To this Resolution, respondents still filed their respective MRs, which were denied in an Order dated Nov. 27, 2017. Said Order was approved by the Ombudsman on Dec. 20, 2017.

“Considering the number of accused persons involved, who each filed separate counter-affidavits and were given equal opportunity to study the evidence against them and provide answers therefor, there was no inordinate delay in the conduct and termination of preliminary investigation. The delay, if any, was inevitable and was neither unreasonable, vexatious, capricious, nor oppressive. There was also no allegation or proof that the proceedings before the Ombudsman were tainted with malice or politically motivated.

“As can be gleaned from the Resolution of the Ombudsman, it made an independent, exhaustive, and detailed findings anent the ostensible culpability of Jaraula and his co-respondents. It did not merely adopt the reports and findings of the COA.

“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is DISMISSED. Accordingly, the Resolution dated April 10, 2017 and Order dated Nov. 27, 2017 of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-C-C-14-0249 are hereby AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (