Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lawyers affirm strong plunder case vs. Braganza before Ombudsman



DAGUPAN CITY – Lawyers of the 15 incumbent and former barangay officials of Alaminos City who filed plunder case against Mayor Hernani Braganza affirmed yesterday they have a strong case against the mayor and 17 local officials, 9 of whom are incumbent city councilors of Alaminos. In a press conference at the Star Plaza, lawyer Abraham Espejo, lead counsel for the complainants, presented to the media a 330-page verified complaint supported by official documents gathered from the records of the city government of Alaminos and the Commission on Audit (COA) which revealed the series of alleged illegal fund expenditures incurred by Braganza in conspiracy with the other respondents in the Ombudsman case. “We have solid evidences to pin down the mayor and his co-respondens,” Espejo said, as he pointed out that the COA reports alone will surely have Braganza pigeonholed for technical malversation of hundreds of millions of public funds entrusted to the city government. “This is a serious case. We have strong evidence which he (Braganza) will be made to answer point-by-point before the anti-graft body,” Espejo said. “These are public funds and he is answerable to the people,” he added, as he expressed optimism the Office of the Ombudsman will judiciously act on the complaint. Braganza and the other respondents, including a ranking official of a private construction firm, RR Encabo Construction, Inc., were charged before the Office of the Ombudsman for violation of Republic Act 7080 (plunder) Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices) and Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (malversation). In the charge sheet, the complainants accused Braganza and the other respondents of conspiring to defraud the national government and the city government of Alaminos of some P4.7 billion in development and other funds. Multimillion peso “anomalous” projects The projects enumerated in the complaint include: P31-million “E-Kawayan project” (bamboo handicraft industry) funded by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR); P8-million Olympic-size swimming pool funded by the Department of Tourism (P5-M) and P3-M from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of then Rep. Prospero Pichay. Another multimillion peso project, the Wetland Development pattered after the famous Don Tham series of fishponds of Thailand that would cost some P55-M, according to the charge sheet, had gone uncertain despite a lot donated by a private citizen for the project site. The complainants also listed as “anomalous” the renovation/upgrading of the City Plaza and Children’s Park, costing P9.3 million, the repair of Cayucay Road at P10.4-million and the Gawad-Kalinga Eco Village where only 22 of the 100 housing units were reportedly constructed. In the same charge sheet, the complainants raised suspicion on the use of the P75-million released by the national government to start the construction of an airport. The amount was reportedly part of the P210-million allocation of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) for the building of 3-kilometer airport runway. So far, however, not a single square-inch of a cement-paved runway has been made, but only a 3-kilometer graveled access road from the national highway to the airport site. It is believed the snail-paced airport development could have prompted Pres. Aquino to set aside the project from the national government’s list of priority infrastructure projects. Unliquidated cash advances In addition, Mayor Braganza and the other respondents were made to account for some P37.7-million in unliquidated cash advances, P13.5-million and P5.3-million in intelligence funds were, based on records, withdrawn respectively by Alaminos Police Chief, Supt. Saltat and POSO employee Millan who had been charged for the murder of his brother, a police officer. P300-M loan for hospital, hotel projects Enumerated in the complaint as alleged “anomalous government projects” were the construction of a city hospital, a hotel and some buildings for the expansion of the Pangasinan State University (PSU). The complainants alleged that the projects were supposed to be funded by a P300-million loan with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) but which loan package was later transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines through a Deed of Assignment approved in a resolution adopted by the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Alaminos. Later, the DBP reportedly released P249-million to the city government which set aside P120-million as “standby-credit” and earmarked for the construction of a hospital, hotel and buildings for the expansion of PSU. But the complainants claimed that, except for basic structures, such as posts and beams, no hospital or hotel was put up. For the loan facility, the city government will have to pay P25-million in annual amortization cost for 14 years, or a total of P250-million. Construction of the hospital and hotel was awarded to RR Encabo Construction, Inc.. The hospital was expected to be finished last June 2010 while the hotel on June 2011. Aside from Braganza, named respondents were Alaminos City Councilors Earl James Aquino, Joselito Fontelera, Rufina Gabriel, Oscar Boling, Ranny de Leon, Constante Carasi, Filemon Racela, Jr., Moriah Biorella Venus Ranoy and Emerlinda Ravarra. Also charged before the anti-graft body were Alaminos City Administrator Wilmer Panabang, City Treasurer Shierly dela Cruz, City Budget Officer Rowena Ruiz, City Accountant Emelyn Acosta, City Engineer Ismael Najera, Engr. Roel Anonuevo, City Police Chief, Supt. Rolie Saltat, Lyndon Millan of the Alaminos City Public Order and Safety Office (POSO) and Engr. Ramir R. Encabo, president of RR Encabo Construction, Inc., and a brother-in-law of Braganza who works for the construction firm.

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