Anti-graft court acquits Suplico in P15-M pork barrel fund case

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The Fifth Division of the Sandiganbayan exonerated former Iloilo 5th district Rep. Rolex Tupas Suplico of charges for alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or the so-called pork barrel for lawmakers.

The decision is based on the promulgation in Case No. SB-18-CRM-0551 (PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES versus ROLEX T. SUPLICO, ET AL.), the dispositive portion of which stated: “WHEREFORE, for failure of the prosecution to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Court finds Rolex T. Suplico NOT GUILTY.”

Associate Justice Maryann Corpus-Manalac wrote the decision which was promulgated on Jan. 12, 2024 for the Court.

This was concurred by the Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, who is the Chairperson of the Fifth Division, and Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega.

The Court stated that the case started in “January 2010, (when) Representative (Niel C.) Tupas, Jr. wrote the Office of the Ombudsman to request that accused Suplico be investigated and prosecuted for possible violation of the anti-graft law and ‘The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.’

“The request related to an alleged misuse of the fund sourced from the 2007 PDAF appropriation. According to the letter, the fund was released to (AARON Foundation) on accused Suplico’s request. It also cited the 2007 Annual Audit Report of the Commission on Audit (COA) x x x (stating) that the fund was without (a) liquidation report.”

On October 23, 2018, an information was filed by the Office of the Ombudsman with the Sandiganbayan, charging Suplico, Antonio Ortiz, former Director-General of the Technology Resource Center (TRC); and Alfredo Ronquillo, President of the AARON Foundation, with violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

The prosecution presented 11 witnesses to prove its contention that “Suplico illegally connived with Ortiz and Ronquillo to cause the release of his PDAF appropriation to the TRC for funding ghost projects in the 5th District of Iloilo.”

On the other hand, Suplico presented only 2 witnesses.

His first witness testified that the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between himself, TRC and Aaron Foundation is non-existent as it was never reported by the notary public.

The second witness was a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent who testified that Suplico’s signatures on his alleged endorsement of the AARON Foundation as his chosen non-governmental organization (NGO) as well the MOA were not original but are scanned signatures.

Thereafter, the Sandiganbayan examined the elements of the crime charged under sec. 3(e) of RA 3019:

(1) the accused is a public officer;

(2) the accused acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence; and

(3) the government suffered undue injury and AARON Foundation received unwarranted benefits.

It held that the prosecution was only able to establish the first element.

It also concluded that the Prosecution “failed to establish conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt” between Suplico, Ortiz and Ronquillo. “As a result, accused Suplico is liable only for the consequences of his own acts (which were) insufficient to establish the second and third elements of violation of Section 3(e) of the anti-graft law x x x,” it added.

The Court then held that “(w)hen the prosecution fails to establish by proof beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the crime charged and in identifying the accused as the one responsible therefore…acquittal must follow.”

Thus, it ruled in favor of Suplico.