Sandiganbayan orders arrest of SBMA chief, 15 Olongapo City officials

The Sandiganbayan has ordered the arrest of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman Rolen Paulino Sr. and some officials of the Olongapo City local government after it found probable cause for the officials’ alleged violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, as amended.

The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division issued the arrest order on 12 July against Paulino and 15 other co-accused after it granted the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration and set aside the 1 April 2022 resolution by the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division. The Seventh Division had earlier found no sufficient grounds for probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against the accused, and dismissed the charges filed on 6 February 2018 against Paulino and other officials.

Paulino was then Olongapo mayor when graft charges were filed against him and other city officials in connection with the construction of a mall and commercial center on government property.

His co-accused include Vice Mayor Aquilino Cortez and former city councilors Elena Dabu, Benjamin Gregorio Cajudo II, Eduardo Guerrero, Noel Atienza, Alreuella Bundang-Ortiz, Edna Elane, Emerito Bacay, Randy Sionzon and Egmidio Gonzales Jr.

The other co-accused are Tony-Kar Balde III of the City Planning and Development Office, Cristiflor Buduhan of the Office of the City Accountant, Ann Sison of the Office of the City Legal Office, Mamerto Malabute of the Office of the City Administrator and Department II Head Joy Cahilig of the City Budget Office — all members of the city’s Special Bids and Awards Committee.

The accused were indicted in February 2018 for allegedly failing to comply with the provisions of RA 6957 — or the Act Authorizing the Financing, Construction, Operation, and Maintenance of Infrastructure Projects by the Private Sector, as amended by RA 7718 and its implementing rules and regulations — in the lease and development of the Olongapo City Civic Center, now the location of SM Central Mall.

‘Politically motivated’

In a statement, Paulino has called the charges “politically motivated” and that they have “absolutely nothing to do with my current role as chairman and administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.”

“It is unfortunate that an educational institution such as Gordon College and SM Central, a solid vehicle in molding today’s youth, and undeniably a commercial and economic boon to the community respectively, are being capitalized to advance the political agenda of certain personalities,” he added.

Paulino maintained that the case involving the construction of Gordon College and SM Central had been dismissed three years ago by the Sandiganbayan, and was merely resurrected when a third motion for reconsideration by the prosecution was granted.

‘Sufficient to indict’

The Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division cleared the accused in 2019, ruling that the lease agreement was for commercial purposes and thus outside the scope of the Build Operate and Transfer law.

However, in the recent resolution penned by Associate Justice Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division said that, after allowing the state to correct the defect in the amended information, it now found “the allegations in the present information sufficient to constitute an offense.”

The Fifth Division noted that “the core issue to be resolved is whether there is probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against herein accused.” It also said that the refiling of the charges was within the bounds of the Rules of Court.

The court “is convinced that the present information is also sufficient to indict herein accused for violation of Section 3[e] under Republic Act 3019, as amended,” it ruled.

Section 3(e) of RA 3019 defines corrupt practices by public officers as “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any 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 applies to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.





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