FORMER agrarian reform secretary Roberto Pagdanganan has been cleared of malversation and graft charges by the Sandiganbayan after the Office of the Ombudsman failed to resolve the complaint in its preliminary stage.
The anti-graft court’s Second Division absolved Pagdanganan, also former Bulacan governor, of having misused P30 million in coconut funds.
It blamed the Ombudsman’s delay in issuing a resolution indicting Pagdanganan for the construction of a coconut processing plant in Quezon.
The Ugnayan Kapatiran ng Nagsasariling Organisasyon sa Kanayunan (UNORKA) sued Pagdanganan for entering a memorandum of understanding with National Council on Food Security and Job Creation executive director Charles Avila for the latter to put up a private stock corporation —the Calauag, Quezon Province Integrated Coconut Processing Plant Inc.—registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The complainant said the P30-million budget was utilized as DAR’s equity investment to a private firm, also implicating officials of the National Council on Food Security and Job Creation, Philippine Coconut Authority and the processing plant.
In July 2004, a complaint against Pagdanganan was filed with the Ombudsman. Seven years later, the Ombudsman issued a resolution finding probable cause to indict the former Department of Agrarian Reform chief.
“(T)here appears to be no justifiable basis as to why the Office of the Ombudsman could not have earlier resolved the preliminary investigation proceedings… (T)he proceedings were terminated after about seven years after the filing of the complaint on July 15, 2004. Under the circumstances, the delay largely remains unjustified,” the court’s decision read.
“The Ombudsman has the inherent duty not only to go through the particulars of the case but also to resolve the same within the proper length of time. Its dutiful performance should not only be gauged by the quality of the assessment but by the reasonable promptness of its dispensation.”
The delay was “unacceptable,” the anti-graft said.
According to the Ombudsman, the delay in resolution of the complaint was caused by the “political environ” due to the impeachment and resignation of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
“It is obvious that at the time the Resolution of the Ombudsman was made, Gutierrez was relatively new in her job and nothing appears to have prevented her from performing her job as Ombudsman with dispatch,” the Sandiganbayan said.