|Braganza (C) with his lawyers Moncupa and Pulido|
I’ve been a witness in several press conferences how the lawyers of re-electionist Governor Amado T. Espino and his rival Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza mocked each other’s legal strategies on the non-bailable plunder case they filed at their patron’s opponent.
Orduna filled a plunder case against Espino
It started when Bugallon Mayor Ricardo Orduna, an ally of Braganza, rode shotgun on December 14, 2012 from Pangasinan to the Office of Secretary Mar Roxas of the Department of Interior and Local Government(DILG) in Quezon City by exposing before the media that he personally delivered P10 million a month or a total of P900 million from the past years from illegal jueteng operations to Governor Espino Espino. The revelation was immediately followed by a trip to the Office of the Ombudsman where Orduna filed a string of cases against Espino on an Ati-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act where one of them was the capital offense called plunder.
Espino allies filled too a plunder case vs. Braganza
Orduna’s legal stunt did not go unanswered from the Espino camp. In early January this year, more than a dozen incumbent and former village chiefs of Alaminos City who are identified as allies of Governor Espino, filed too in Manila through Espino’s lawyer Abraham Espejo a prayer to investigate for a plunder case against Braganza because of his alleged anomalous on-going projects.
The complaint stated that Braganza with his 15 allies, friends, and a brother-in-law implemented allegedly anomalous transactions for the past nine years siphoned from the P4.7 billion public funds.
Annexes of the complaints showed documents of the multi-million pesos airport whose concrete evidence is a pathetic structure of a kilometer of a concrete accessed road, a hospital that has been reduced from a medical services complex to a city hospital, a hotel, ghost projects like P8 million Olympic – size swimming pool and E-Kawayan building, and the P300 million Pangasinan State University whose edifices are funded by the city coffer.
The complaint included other controversial projects built without the benefit of bidding. Espino lawyer, who is the dean of the college of law of the Iglesia ni Cristo’s owned university in Quezon City, said the legal yarn filed against his client does not hold water.
“There is no paper trail to incriminate the governor” “It was all sheer hearsay”, “It’s hog washed!” pro Espino media men rephrased on their articles as what Espejo told them in defense of Espino.
Orduna’s P10 million a month tale lacks paper trails “Unlike the plunder case against former president Joseph Estrada, Orduna’s accusation against Espino was not backed up by any documentary evidences.
The absence of the paper trails could undermine the credibility of his accusation to win a probable cause to pin Espino in the Ombudsman or the issuance of a warrant of arrest in the Sandiganbayan.
Is this a “he said, she said crap” I posed to Braganza’s lawyers Efren Moncupa and Bodje Pulido in a press conference early this year at the Deluxe Restaurant in Dagupan City.
Attorney Pulido, who runs against Espino’s ally re-electionist congressman Jesus “Boying” Celeste (1st District, Pangasinan) retorted: “Although it is a “he said, she said”. Espino can still be liable not in a plunder case but in an iIll-gotten wealth case” that Orduna filed against him.
“How can he explain his measly salary as governor when he got all those hundreds of millions of pesos properties in and out of Pangasinan?” Pulido answered my question.
In a rejoinder to Pulido, Braganza assailed Espino by spreading in front of him for the media to see a white cartolina paper with a huge pictures of a multi-million pesos worth of luxury General Motors’ Hummer truck and a high end Toyota Land Cruiser owned by Espino. “I challenged Espino that we both show to the public our SALN (Statement of Asset and Liabilities) para malaman ng tao kung sino ang magnanakaw sa amin,” he boldly declared to the media men whose attention were divided by the sumptuous free fried chicken and pancit canton being served by the waiters.
Espejo refute’s Braganza’s lawyers
With his ego ruffled by the lawyers of Braganza ridiculing his filing of a case at the Ombudsman as a joke because he did not file a plunder case but a request for the Ombudsman to investigate if there is a plunder case in the P4.7 billion projects in Alaminos, Espejo, accompanied by another lawyer and the complainants, invited the media in a press conference complete with a projector and visuals and of course another free luxury meal for the treated members of the fourth estate at the Star Plaza Hotel.
“Anong walang plunder case. Ito tingnan niyo ang kapal-kapal ng na file namin sa Ombudsman. Itong na filed ni Mayor Orduna four pages lang. Iyong na file namin heavyweight, iyong kanila paper weight," Espejo waved to us the 333 pages photo copies of the sworn statements of the village chiefs and four pages complaint-affidavit of Orduna to emphasize his point.
Attorney Espejo sarcastically laughed at my question when I compared the mode of how Orduna flled the case and the way he assisted the complainants in filing their plunder case against Braganza.
“Why you did not replicate Orduna by directly filing a complaint-affidavit against the governor, while you settled only to file a prayer to investigate Braganza for a plunder case?
Your method to secure a favorable resolution in the Ombudsman would be slower”. “Wala namang plunder case dito sa papel ni Mayor Orduna , sworn statement lang ito!” Espejo emphatically told me by denigrating Orduna’s “paperweight” complaint.
With both camps’ lawyers trying to get each other’s throat by “show boating” their knowledge of the intricacies of law before the media who were mostly knowledgeable about what landed on their taste bud than the rules of court Espejo explained to them, I will close this column with a conclusion.
The lawyers of Orduna,of their being gung-ho to file directly a case, threaded a dangerous legal path by courting a legal disaster at the expense of the propaganda value of their plunder case against Espino in the duration of the election. Filing a complaint entails an adjudication period.
According to the Ombudsman Act of 1989 (Republic Act No.6770) the complainant and the respondent should follow a certain days of reglamentary period as based on Section 3 Rules 112 of the Rules of Court: The days that would be consumed by the investigation officer to evaluate if there is probable cause is 60 days starting from the complaint-affidavit of Orduna, counter-affidavit of Espino, reply-affidavit of Orduna, comment on the reply-affidavit of Espino, and evaluation for probable cause of the Ombudsman.
From December 14 where Orduna rode shotgun to Manila and filed the case, the adjudication period of 60 days should have ended in February 14, 2013 with a resolution whether there was a probable cause or the case is as good as a heap in a waste basket.
( My Observation: It is already April 2013 or 120 days after Orduna threw a monkey wrench at his former boss. Why the Ombudsman procrastinate? It’s time for the Camp of Espino to file a motion telling the Ombudsman to expedite the case otherwise it would be accused of not only playing red tape but playing favorite to Braganza – an ally of the President of the Republic.)
What if the government prosecutor found no probable cause in the complaint of Orduna?
That would be a PR debacle for Braganza. He would be defanged with one of his major issues his camp exploited at the hilt even before the start of the campaign period of March 29 that the governor has the unquenchable thirst for illegal funds.
It seems Espejo’s prayer to the Ombudsman to investigate Braganza’s on going projects for a plunder case (s) has been a calculated move and not a big joke as what Braganza's lawyers wise cracked.
While Orduna’s complaint has been subjected to prescription after he filed it on that fateful day of December, the complaint against Braganza was not a subject to the strict reglamentary period as the Ombudsman should forward it first to the appropriate offices (Departments of Transportation and Communication and of Health, to name a few) or officials for fact-finding investigation before the investigation officer evaluate them if Braganza and others really pocketed a part of the P4.7 billion.
This procedure can go beyond the election in May 13 this year and even beyond the end of this year.
The upside of the moves of Espejo is his case would not be dismissed even before the poll in May. Consequently the spin masters of Espino can continue to exploit it that Braganza is not as immaculate as he portrays himself before the public (as pictured by his critics in the media) .
The downside of the dismissal of Orduna’s complaint before election time is Braganza losses a major propaganda weapon to ingratiate with the more than one million vote-rich Pangasinan.
The implications of these two tales (or yarn if you want it to call them) are the dismissal of cases in favor of Espino would increase his moral armor (“Look the case against our patron has been dismissed,” his supporters will crow) while Branganza losses a major propaganda weapon for him to accuse Espino of plunder.
In case this happens, Braganza could only blame his lawyers' miscalculation. They could be legal luminaries at their own rights in court, but they are still sissy in the nitty-gritty of the value of propaganda - things that they did not learn in law schools.. (You can read my selected columns at http://mortzortigoza.blogspot.com and articles at Pangasinan News Aro. You can send comments too at firstname.lastname@example.org).