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Ombudsman asked to charge Gov. Espino

The Office of the Ombudsman has been asked to charge Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino III with graft and corruption over alleged irregularities involving the construction of overpriced sports oval track and event staging area inside Alaminos City National High School in Barangay Magsaysay, Pangasinan last year.

Espino was not immediately available for comment.

In a three-page complaint filed last April 16, Michelle Anne B. Celino accused Espino of graft and corruption, particularly for violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, when the respondent public official allegedly implemented what she called the anomalous P13- million sports oval track and event stage projects in 2018, which the complainant claimed were “grossly overpriced.”

The complainant made reference to the construction of sports oval track and event staging area in Alaminos City National High School, which was used during the 2018 Region 1 Athletic Association Meet, where the provincial government spent P13 million of its public funds for the construction of the said sports projects. 

The amount was used supposedly for the backfilling of soil, asphalting of the oval, and the construction of two bleachers and a stage.

“The amount claimed by the respondent for the project is very clear not commensurate to the work that was undertaken, or simply put, it is grossly overpriced,” Celino’s complaint stated.

“It is respectfully prayed . . . that the instant criminal case for violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 against respondent Governor Amado Espino, III be filed, as well as the corresponding civil and administrative cases . . .” the complainant said.

Section 3(e) states “Causing any injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. 

“This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.”

The complainant said that of the total amount of the project, P5 million was allegedly used for the construction of the two bleachers and a stage and P8 million allegedly used for backfilling of soil and asphalting of the oval track.

“A careful observation of the pictures would show that the bleachers would not cost that much. The material and cost estimates . . . were done by the City Engineer of the Province of Pangasinan for the construction of the said bleachers, only amounted to P1,241,006.81,” the complainant said.

While the two bleachers are still there, the stage was no longer there because it was pulled out right after the R1AA event, she lamented.

“That the amount of P8 million spent on the construction of the oval track and P5 million for the bleachers and stage are too excessive, and surely cause undue injury and great prejudice to the government,” the complainant stressed.

To substantiate her allegations against the Pangasinan governor, the complainant provided pieces of evidence such as a compact disc containing a video recording of the respondent public official’s speech before a gathering in Laoac, Pangasinan wherein the respondent mentioned this alleged anomalous project as one of his accomplishments during his tenure in office, photos of the bleachers, backfilling of soil and asphalting of the oval track, as well as the cost estimates of the two bleachers done by the City Engineer of the Province of Pangasinan.

If the Ombudsman finds probable cause to indict him for graft and corruption, he would end up similarly situated with his father—Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr.—who is currently facing trial before the Sandiganbayan for his alleged involvement in illegal mining of black sand along Lingayen Gulf.

The anti-graft court’s Sixth Division earlier decided to proceed with the trial of the graft cases against Cong. Espino and others after it found the prosecution to have satisfactorily established sufficient basis to prove the conspiracy between him and public officials Rafael Baraan and Alvin Bigay and accused private individual Cesar Detera, Lolita Bolayog and Edwin Alcazar for alleged illegal mining of magnetite and mineral extraction in Barangay Sabangan, Pangasinan.

This came after the anti-graft court denied the joint demurrer to evidence filed by accused Detera, Bolayog and Alcazar for lack of merit. A petition for demurer to evidence means a plea to the court to declare as insufficient the evidence submitted by the prosecution.

According to the anti-graft court, there exists sufficient evidence to convict Espino and his co-accused for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, unless they presented strong evidence in their favor.

“An evaluation of the prosecution’s testimonial and documentary evidence in this case reveals a prima facie case of violation of Section 3(e) of RA No. 3019, warranting the accused to go forward with the defense evidence,” the decision stressed.

“The Court’s finding of prima facie case against them only meant that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to sustain its proposition that accused may have committed the offense charged, and if unrebutted, such would be the conclusion,” the decision further said.

In 2016, the Ombudsman filed the charges against Espino and former provincial administrator Baraan for allegedly unlawfully allowing illegal black sand mining in Pangasinan through the issuance of a small-scale mining permit to Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Inc. on June 29, 2011 when Espino Jr. was the provincial governor.

Alexandra Mining officials Cesar Detera, Edwin Alcazar, Lolita Bolayog, Denise Ann Sia Kho Po, Annlyn Detera, Cynthia Camara, Glenn Subia and Emiliano Buenavista were included as private respondents.

The Ombudsman prosecutors said the area affected by the illegal black and mining was in Barangay Sabangan, which is located in the mouth of a river that flows to the Lingayen Gulf.

“In the instant [case], the prosecution satisfactorily established, at least by prima facie evidence, conspiracy by and between accused public officials Amado Espino, Rafael Baraan and Alvin Bigay and accused private individuals Cesar Detera, Lolita Bolayog and Edwin Alcazar,” the Sandiganbayan held.

The anti-graft court noted that “the overt acts of the said accused tend to point to a joint purpose and design, concerted action and community of interest in conducting a soil remediation and/or magnetite and mineral extraction activities.”

In the case of Espino and Baraan the anti-graft court said their respective positions made them responsible for the issuance of the small-scale mining permit to Alexandra Mining and a government gratuitous permit in favor of Xypher Builders despite the lack of requirements.

It said that without such permits, there would have been no illegal extraction of black sand or magnetite sand from the Lingayen Gulf.

Topics: Office of the Ombudsman , Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino III , graft and corruption
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