By Czarina Nicole Ong
The Sandiganbayan First Division has cleared Negros Oriental governor Roel Ragay Degamo of his graft charge after it granted his motion to dismiss his case.
Degamo was earlier accused of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for including P10 million worth of intelligence funds in his budget proposal for 2013.
Even though it was deleted in the ordinance approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), Degamo still directed the release of the funds on April 15, 2013. He got it the very next day.
In his motion to quash, Degamo reasoned that he vetoed the ordinance, which decided to transfer the funds to gender and development. He said that the deletion of the intelligence funds is prejudicial to the best interest of the service and the people. Since the SP did not override his veto, Degamo said it caused the reenactment of the P10 million intelligence expenses.
He added that the essential elements constitutive of graft were not sufficiently alleged in the Information. In particular, Degamo said that no unwarranted benefits or advantage were given to a private party.
Degamo stressed that graft would have been violated only when there is absolutely no appropriation ordinance or law authorizing the disbursement.
At the same time, his criminal liability was extinguished upon his settlement of the amount covered by the notice of suspension issued by the Commission on Audit (COA). Since the COA did not issue a notice of disallowance against him, Degamo said it puts to rest any doubt about any criminal liability.
The Sandiganbayan took note of the inordinate delay taken by the Office of the Ombudsman in handling Degamo’s case. Their preliminary investigation, according to the court, “was incomplete and there was a denial of the constitutional right of the accused-movant to due process.”
“Such denial of the accused-movant’s constitutional right effectively ousted the Office of the Ombudsman of its authority to file the instant criminal complaint. In turn, this court may not validly take cognizance of this case on such ground,” the resolution read.
It also sided with Degamo that the prosecution failed to prove that he caused undue injury to any part. In fact, this element of the crime is “wanting” in Degamo’s case.
“Given the totality of the facts and evidence, and after a careful consideration of the arguments of the parties in support of their respective positions, the court is therefore inclined to grant the instant motion to quash the information and dismiss the instant case,” the resolution read.
The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona with the concurrence of Chairperson Efren De La Cruz and Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg.