Ex-DPWH-7 exec told to return P1.5 million spent for travels, pasalubong

(The Freeman) - May 15, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has ordered a former regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Central Visayas to pay the agency a total of P1.5 million.

This is equivalent to the amount he spent for local travels, meals, souvenirs and grocery items when he was in office in 2002 to 2005.

In a 20-page decision promulgated on May 7, the court’s Seventh Division has approved the plea bargain agreement between the Office of the Ombudsman and former DPWH-7 director Juanito Abergas.

Under the deal, Abergas would plead guilty to three counts of failure of an accountable officer to render accounts as defined and penalized under Article 218 of the Revised Penal Code. In exchange, the ombudsman shall drop the three counts of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act which it originally filed against him in 2015.

Conviction of violation of RA 3019 carries a sentence of six up to ten years of imprisonment for each count with the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office. Failure to render accounts only carries a fine.

The Seventh Division noted that the plea bargain agreement had the expressed approval of Ombudsman Samuel Martires while the prosecution team handling the cases was also “in full support” of the deal.

Re-arraigned last May 7, Abergas entered a guilty plea to three counts of failure to render accounts.

The Seventh Division imposed against him a fine of P6,000 for each count.

The court, however, also ordered Abergas to pay the DPWH-7 a total of P1,484,406.19 in civil liability, equivalent to the amount of his questionable reimbursements, involved in the cases. The court said Abergas’ return of the public fund was part of his plea bargain deal with the ombudsman.

Based on the charge sheets filed by the ombudsman in 2015, Abergas as then DPWH-7 director, made excessive reimbursements for his supposed official business local travels.

In one instance, the ombudsman said, Abergas reimbursed a total of P784,430 for souvenirs or pasalubong and payment of hotel bills, meals, drinks, groceries and other items in connection with his supposed official travel.

The ombudsman said Abergas’ reimbursed amount was in excess of P464,430.94 from the allowable travel reimbursement ceiling of P320,000, not to mention that some of the expenses were “for other purposes not in relation to the performance of his official duties and functions”.

In another instance, the ombudsman said Abergas reimbursed the amount of P603,459.55 for his supposed travels, without submitting any supporting documents such as Travel Authority and Certificate of Appearance.

Lastly, the ombudsman said Abergas also made another reimbursement amounting P416,515.70 for his supposed travel-related “Actual and Incidental Expenses” even if the claim expenses already formed part of his earlier “Etraordinary and Miscellaneous Expenses” reimbursement for the buying pasalubong, payment of hotel bills, meals, drinks and grocery items. — Philstar.com, GMR (FREEMAN)

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