April 24, 2024

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Why former Sorsogon Governor Lee was convicted by the Sandiganbayan

In a fifteen-page resolution the Supreme Court First Division chaired by CJ Diosdado Peralta affirmed the decision of the Sandiganbayan First Division in convicting former Sorsogon Governor Raul Lee for violation of Section (3)e and (3)g of RA 3019, the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Section 3(e) …causing any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving to any private entity any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest impartiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence… while 3(g)… entering on behalf of the government into any contract or transaction manifestly or grossly disadvantageous to the same whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.

The conviction came after the Ombudsman found probable cause in the overpriced purchase of 2,133 liters of fertilizer committing the crime as a public officer in the discharge of his official function and as lead implementer with manifest partiality, gross inexcusable negligence with unwarranted benefit, an advantage to the supplier despite the existence of a suitable market substitute.

Together with his co-accused Raul Hernandez who was the provincial accountant and Ofelia Velasco as the provincial treasurer, they exercised grave abuse by entering into a contract with FESHAN PHIL. Inc. which is grossly disadvantageous to the provincial government. Hernandez died during the pendency of the case while Velasco was acquitted.

The overprice of 2,815,560.00 pesos was found out after the audit commission made a verified canvass based on the timeframe of the market price of fertilizer per record of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority. Sorsogon was allocated 5million pesos from the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) for the acquisition of agricultural supplies and inputs of the province as financial assistance for agricultural reinforcement during the administration of GMA.

The COA Audit Report

In 2004 through Lee as the lead implementer of the fund approved the purchase of 2,000 liters of the liquid fertilizer at 1,500 pesos per liter in the total amount of 3 million pesos. In another transaction, 133 liters of the liquid fertilizer was purchased for 199,500.00 pesos for distribution to marginalized farmers.

The audit revealed that certain transactions did not comply with the laws, rules, and regulations one of them was the purchase of 2,133 liters of liquid fertilizers. The initial purchase of 2,000 liters on April 16, 2004, and the 133 liters which were procured six days after by direct contracting has no proof of public bidding. Lee acknowledged receipt of the 2,000 and 133 liters of fertilizers and the source of the fertilizer was only Feshan Phils. Inc. He also requested and approved the procurement of the fertilizers.

In the purchase, request COA observed that the brand name was specified Bio Nature Organic Fertilizer violating the law mandating that the procurement of goods shall be based on relevant characteristics and reference to brand names shall not be allowed. Records also showed that there were suppliers in the market selling the same product at a much lower price and there were other suitable substitutes available in the market for the liquid fertilizers purchased from Feshan Phil. Inc. per canvass done at JL Trading of Camarines Sur and from Unibest Enterprises in Pili Camarines Sur.

COA also discovered that Feshan Phil. Inc. was not granted a license in 2004 by the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority (FPA) and the purchase price paid by the Province of Sorsogon was way higher than the prices listed in the average Prices of Fertilizers and Pesticides prepared by FPA.

The Ombudsman

A finding of probable cause by the Office of the Ombudsman with respect to the purchase of 2,133 liters of fertilizers, four pieces of information was filed against Governor Lee, Hernandez and Velasco before the Sandiganbayan; two pieces of information for violations of Section3(e)of Republic Act No. 3019 docketed as SB-11-CRM-0036 and 0037 and two Information for violation of Section 3(g) docketed as SB-11-CRM-0038 and 0039. The Information in SB-11-CRM-0036 and 0037 was amended.

In SB-11-CRM-0036(June 1, 2004) the accused as public officers committed a crime in the discharged of their official functions acted together, conspiring and confederating with one another in manifest partiality, evidence bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence which causes undue injury to the government in the amount of One Hundred Seventy Five Thousand and Five Hundred Sixty Pesos (P 175,560.00) by deliberately giving unwarranted benefit, an advantage to Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizer purportedly distributed exclusively by Feshan Phil, Inc. thereby dispensing the conduct of public bidding even without an appropriate exclusive agency or distributor certificate as required for the purchase of 133 liters of Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizer costing One hundred ninety-nine thousand five hundred pesos (P 199,500.00) but the quantity of the fertilizer cost only twenty thousand nine hundred forty pesos (P 23,940.00)…

In SB-11-CRM-037(May 6, 2004) the quantity of the procured liquid fertilizer was 2,000 liters for three million pesos (P 3,000,000.00) but the actual cost is only three hundred sixty thousand pesos (P 360,000.00) or an overpriced of P 2,640,000.00. The dealer was Feshan Phil. Inc.

In SB-11-CRM-038(June 1, 2004) the actual cost of 133 liters of liquid fertilizer is only 23,940,00 pesos but was purchased for 199,500.00 from Feshan Phil. Inc. An overprice of Php 175,560.00.

In SB-11-CRM-0039(May 6, 2004) for the purchase of 2,000 liters of liquid fertilizer from Feshan Phil, Inc. an overpriced of Php 2,640,000.00 was discovered. The actual price for the quantity of the liquid fertilizer should be only Php 360,000.00. Lee paid P 3,000,000.00.

Sandiganbayan Timeline

On March 2012 – Governor Lee and Velasco filed a motion to quash saying that their right to speedy disposition of cases were violated and that there is no probable cause to charge them for violation of RA 3019.

June 18, 2012 – First motion to quash filed by Lee and Velasco denied.

July 18, 2012 – Lee moved for the reconsideration of the June 18, 2012 resolution.

September 6, 2012 -Meanwhile Velasco and Hernandez was arraigned.

October 8, 2012 – Lee motion for reconsideration of the June 18, 2012 Resolution was denied.

December 20, 2012 – Lee filed a Petition for Certiorari assailing the June 18, 2012 and October 8, 2012 Sadiganbayan Resolutions.

January 23, 2013 – dismissed the December 20, 2012 petition of Lee for Certiorari saying it failed to show any grave abuse of discretion of the Sandiganbayan when it denied his first motion to quash. Lee moved for reconsideration was denied with finality in a Resolution on June 19, 2013.

February 26, 2013 – Lee was eventually arraigned. Pleading not guilty.

September 26, 2013 – Lee and Velasco filed their second motion to quash.

January 14, 2014 – the second motion to quash was denied by the Sandiganbayan.

February 5, 2014 – Lee filed a motion for reconsideration citing Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan

April 29, 2014 – Sandiganbayan denied his motion for reconsideration.

August 18, 2017 – the Sandiganbayan found Lee and Hernandez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 3(e) and (g) of RA 3019, but acquitted Velasco.

October 10, 2017 – Lee moved for reconsideration the same was denied.

Supreme Court

In G.R. 234664-67 Raul R. Lee as petitioner and the Sandiganbayan First Division as respondents is a Petition for Certiorari assailing the Decision of the Sandiganbayan, First Division, in Criminal Case Nos. SB-11-CRM—0036-37 and SB-11-CRM-0038-39 entitled People of the Philippines v. Gov. Raul R. Lee, Raul G. Hernandez and Ofelia D. Velasco.

On January 12, 2021 with the summarized antecedent facts, the Supreme Court First Division chaired by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, concurred by Associate Justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Rosmari Carandang, Rodil Zalameda and Samuel Gaerlan said that “a careful review of the records would show that the Sandiganbayan did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in the appreciation of the evidence presented by the parties. Thus, this Court finds no merit to reverse its decision and resolution.”

“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is hereby DENIED. The Decision and Resolution of the Sandiganbayan dated August 18, 2017 and October 10, 2017, respectively, in Criminal Case Nos. SB-11-CRM-0035 to 0039 are hereby AFFIRMED.

(Bicol Express News Research Team)