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Ex-lawmaker fined P17K for P4.3-M PDAF misuse

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Ex-lawmaker fined P17K for P4.3-M PDAF misuse
The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan granted the plea-bargain deal of Syjuco and his co-accused, former Department of Agriculture (DA) Region VI director Eduardo Lecciones Jr., with the Office of the Ombudsman.
Joven Cagande

MANILA, Philippines — Upon paying a fine of P17,000, former Iloilo second district representative Augusto Syjuco Jr. can walk free of criminal cases in connection with the alleged misuse of P4.3 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel in 2000.

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan granted the plea-bargain deal of Syjuco and his co-accused, former Department of Agriculture (DA) Region VI director Eduardo Lecciones Jr.,  with the Office of the Ombudsman.

In a decision promulgated on July 23, the court’s First Division allowed Syjuco and Lecciones to plead guilty to lesser offenses of fraud against public treasury under Article 213 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), violation of Presidential Decree 1445 or the Government Auditing Code and failure to render accounts under Article 218 of the RPC.

Syjuco and Lecciones were directed to each pay a fine of P10,000 for fraud against public treasury, P1,000 for violation of PD 1445 and P6,000 for failure to render accounts or a total of P17,000 each.

Syjuco and Lecciones were originally charged by the ombudsman with two counts each of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and one count each of malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the RPC.

A graft offense carries a penalty of six to 15 years of imprisonment while malversation of public funds under the RPC carries a penalty of four to seven years of imprisonment.

Filed by the ombudsman in January 2017, the cases stemmed from the alleged release of Syjuco’s P4.3-million PDAF to non-government organization Tagipusuon Foundation Inc. in March 2000 for the supposed implementation of “social, economic and health services” project in his district.

The ombudsman said the payment was released to Tagipusuon without holding any public bidding and despite the foundation’s lack of qualifications and track record to carry out the project.

The ombudsman said that under the memorandum of agreement (MOA) entered by DA Region VI with Tagipusuon, the foundation would implement a district-wide poultry breeding and production project to be funded by Syjuco’s PDAF.

The Tagipusuon, in turn, entered into a MOA with Ilonggo Chickboy Corp. for the supply of chicks for the project. The ombudsman alleged that both Tagipusuon and Chickboy were owned by Syjuco.

The ombudsman said Chickboy’s business address was the residence of Syjuco while the office address of Tagipusuon was also his congressional district office.

The ombudsman said the P4.3-million PDAF of Syjuco was just coursed through Tagipusuon but was actually used “to finance the business of Chickboy Corp.”

The First Division noted that former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada, the private complainant in the cases, already gave his consent for the plea bargain deal between the ombudsman and the accused.

Furthermore, the court said the Commission on Audit has also issued a certification dated July 8, 2019 stating that Tagipusuon has already liquidated the amount it received in connection with the implementation of Syjuco’s PDAF-funded project. 

“The monies released by the government have been fully accounted for. In view of the full liquidation of the amounts involved in these cases, there is no basis for the Court to find civil liability against both accused,” the court said.

The First Division had earlier dismissed a graft case against Syjuco in connection with his alleged involvement in the 2004 fertilizer fund scam.

Syjuco, who also previously served as director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), however, still has pending cases before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the alleged purchase of educational materials overpriced by P61 million and the alleged anomalous grants of TESDA scholarships worth P79.9 million.

Meanwhile, former Nueva Ecija governor Tomas Joson III was sentenced to up to 30 years in jail for unlawfully donating the provincial government’s service vehicles to his nephew’s municipality in 2007.

In a 57-page decision promulgated on July 26, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division found Joson guilty of three counts of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. 

Joson was sentenced to a minimum of six years to a maximum 10 years of imprisonment for each count of the offense or a total of 18 to 30 years in prison.

His nephew, former Quezon, Nueva Ecija mayor Eduardo Basilio Joson, was found guilty of one count of the same offense.

Former Bongabon, Nueva Ecija mayor Amelia Gamilla, meanwhile, was found guilty of two counts of the same offense.

Aside from their imprisonment, the Seventh Division has ordered the three former officials’ perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

Based on the charge sheets filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2011, Joson, during his term as governor in 2007, donated to the municipal government of Quezon four vehicles, specifically a mobile clinic, a Toyota Revo, a Ford F-150 and a Nissan Urvan and to the Bongabon municipality two vehicles – a Nissan Terrano and a Ford Expedition.

The ombudsman said the donations were done without any valid justification and even if the vehicles were not listed in the list of excess items approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or the provincial board to be up for donation or disposal.

Furthermore, the ombudsman said the vehicles were donated in February or just three months before the May 2007 elections.

In convicting Joson and his two co-accused, the Seventh Division said there was no proof that the donated items were unserviceable or were no longer needed by the provincial government.

“The records do not disclose that there were inventories showing that the same were unserviceable for any cause or were no longer needed by the Provincial Government at the time the same were donated to the municipalities of Quezon and Bongabon,” the court’s decision read.

The court cited Section 381 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code which states that an item may be disposed of or donated to another local government unit or agency provided that the item was appraised by the local Committee on Awards and that the transfer or donation has the approval of the local council.

The court said Joson failed to substantiate his claim that the donated vehicles were part of the surplus items of the provincial government “exceeding the needs of his constituents.”

“Without an actual inventory, or any other similar report on the assets owned by the Provincial Government, it was difficult to imagine that the donations made by accused Tomas Joson involved only the surplus vehicles that the Provincial Government had no need of or the fact that they were unserviceable,” the court said.

“Certainly, without any concrete evidence that the subject vehicles were unserviceable, or that the same were in excess of the required number of vehicles needed by the Provincial Government, the divestment of supposedly functioning vehicles were grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the Provincial Government,” it added.

AUGUSTO SYJUCO JR.

PRIORITY DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE FUND

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