Misuari convicted of graft over ghost purchases

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Misuari convicted of graft over ghost purchases
Nur Misuari

MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has sentenced Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari to 12 to 16 years in prison over the purchase of P77.26 million worth of non-existent information technology (IT) educational materials during his term as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2001.

In a 68-page decision promulgated yesterday, the court’s Third Division found Misuari guilty of two counts of violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits public officials from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to a private party or from causing any party, including the government, undue injury.

He was sentenced to a minimum of six years to a maximum of eight years imprisonment
 for each count of the offense or a total of 12 to 16 years for the two counts. The court also ordered his perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

Convicted with Misuari of two counts of the same offense were four former regional officials of the Department of Education (DepEd)-ARMM – director Leovigilda Cinches, chief accountant Pangalian Maniri, accountant Alladin Usi and supply officer Sittie Aisa Usman.

Also convicted of one count each of graft were Commission on Audit-ARMM resident auditor Nader Macagaan and private supplier Cristeta Ramirez of CPR Publishing.

The Third Division, on the other hand, acquitted Misuari and his six co-accused of two counts of malversation of public funds through falsification of public documents “for the prosecution’s failure to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

The 85-year-old Misuari, who was in Mindanao, was allowed to attend the promulgation of decision on his cases via video-conferencing. This was after his legal team earlier informed the court that he was having difficulty traveling long distances due to his old age and frail health condition.

Right after the reading of the verdict, Misuari’s legal team manifested before the court that he will be filing a motion for reconsideration on his graft conviction.

Misuari is currently out on bail for the cases.

“We are actually very thankful that the court has seen the totality of evidence pointing to the fact that chairman Misuari is innocent of the malversation charges. But there was conviction on the charges of graft and corrupt practices, which we will be appealing since we strongly believe that without the conviction on malversation, these two charges of violation of RA 3019 do not have any leg to stand on,” one of Misuari’s lawyers, Ma. Victoria Lim-Florido, told reporters after the proceedings.

Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2017, the cases stemmed from the payment of P31 million to MBJ Learning Tools on Dec. 21, 2000 and P46.261 million to CPR Publishing on July 24, 2001, for the supposed supply of IT packages intended to be distributed to public elementary and high schools in the province.

The ombudsman said none of the supposedly purchased IT materials was ever delivered. Instead, Misuari and his co-accused regional officials of DepEd allegedly falsified disbursement vouchers, purchase orders, canvass reports, sales invoices, delivery receipts and other supporting documents to make it appear that the transactions were consummated and aboveboard.

Misuari, through his lawyers, had earlier argued that he was no longer the governor of ARMM when the questioned transactions took place.

He said his term as governor only lasted from March 31, 1996 to Sept. 30, 2001 with Parouk Hussin as his successor.

Misuari said that contrary to the prosecution’s allegation, the payments to MBJ Learning and CPR Publishing were made in December 2003 and July 2004, respectively, when he was in detention for rebellion charges during the Arroyo administration.

In convicting Misuari and his co-accused of the graft offense, the Third Division said that while the prosecution failed to sufficiently prove that there was no delivery of the procured items, it was still able to establish that the procurement was attended with irregularities.

For one, the Third Division said, no public bidding was held, in violation of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act. Instead, the court said, Misuari and his co-accused resorted to “personal canvass,” an alternative mode of procurement wherein the procuring entity canvasses the price quotations of at least three prospective suppliers, despite lack of approval from the bids and awards committee.

Furthermore, the court said the supply contracts were still awarded to MBJ Learning Tools and CPR Publishing despite their lack of track record as operational business entities, lack of registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission and lack of physical offices.

While Misuari argued that the payments were released when he was no longer governor, the court said several documentary evidences presented by the prosecution such as purchase orders and disbursement vouchers which paved way for the release of the payments, bore his signature.

The court said Misuari and the other accused failed to substantiate their claim that their signatures in the documents presented by the prosecution were forged.

“Notably, while all the accused claimed forgery, none of them filed any complaint regarding this matter. Not surprisingly, the accused cannot provide details or specifics on the alleged forgery,” the court said.

The decision was signed by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice and Third Division chairperson Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Third Division members Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Ronald Moreno.

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