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Ex-Munti mayor cleared of P97 million graft charge

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Ex-Munti mayor cleared of P97 million graft charge
Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2021, the case stemmed from the Muntinlupa City government’s procurement of three fire trucks and an aerial ladder truck from Palmer-Asia through a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Muntinlupa mayor Aldrin San Pedro of a graft case that stemmed from the allegedly anomalous procurement of P97.52 million worth of fire trucks from 2008 to 2009.

“The prosecution failed to prove the existence of a corrupt intent, dishonest design and unethical interest which goes to the very nature of the offense charged,” the anti-graft court’s Second Division said in its 35-page resolution promulgated on Friday.

San Pedro was specifically acquitted of violating Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, a provision that prohibits public officials from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to a private party, or from causing any party, including the government, undue injury.

Also acquitted of the same charge was private respondent Angel Palmiery, general manager of Palmer-Asia Inc.

Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2021, the case stemmed from the Muntinlupa City government’s procurement of three fire trucks and an aerial ladder truck from Palmer-Asia through a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines.

The ombudsman said that a total of P97.52 million was paid to Palmer-Asia in four tranches on July 27 and Dec. 15, 2008 and Jan. 27 and March 16, 2009 even when the vehicles had not yet been delivered to the city government at that time.

Even after receiving the payments from the city government, the vehicles remained under the name of Palmer-Asia for several years. The ombudsman said the vehicles were even mortgaged by Palmer-Asia to two other banks – Banco de Oro and AIG PhilAm Savings Bank.

The ombudsman said that it was only on July 16, 2012 and Nov. 25, 2014 when the three fire trucks and the aerial ladder truck were registered under the city government, respectively.

The ombudsman said this caused the city government to “incur interests on its withdrawn loan while being deprived of the use of the procured vehicles, to its damage and prejudice.”

In its ruling, however, the Second Division said the prosecution panel of the ombudsman failed to present any evidence that would establish the malice, bad faith or predisposition of San Pedro to favor Palmer-Asia.

“Before he (San Pedro) approved the purchase orders and the (bids and awards committee) resolution subject of the transaction, it had undergone various layers of review from his subordinates. When the paperwork reached him, various signatures accompanied these documents, including the imprimatur of the BAC (members) who declared Palmer-Asia as the lowest calculated and responsive bid for the project,” the Second Division said.

The court said no audit report or any other document showing lapses in the bidding procedure was ever presented by the prosecution.

Theombudsman did not find probable cause to include the members of the BAC in the case as it did not find any irregularity in the awarding of the contract to Palmer-Asia, the court noted.

Contrary to the prosecution’s allegation, the evidence on record showed that the payments were released to Palmer-Asia only after it delivered the vehicles to the municipal government, the Second Division said.

The prosecution failed to substantiate its claim that the loan obtained by the city government had started to incur interest while it had yet to use or to obtain possession of the procured vehicles, the Sandiganbayan said.

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