Finding sufficient basis, Sandiganbayan to proceed with trial of Rep. Espino et al
THE Sandiganbayan has decided to proceed with the trial of graft charges filed against Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino and several individuals after it found sufficient evidence to sustain their indictment for their alleged involvement in illegal mining of black sand along Lingayen Gulf.
In a 20-page decision dated January 28, copy of which was released only recently, the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division through Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero resolved to continue the trial of the graft cases against Espino and others after it found the prosecution to have satisfactorily established sufficient basis to prove the conspiracy between public officials Espino, Rafael Baraan and Alvin Bigay and accused private individual Cesar Detera, Lolita Bolayog and Edwin Alcazar for alleged illegal mining of magnetite and mineral extraction in Barangay Sabangan, Pangasinan.
This came after the anti-graft court denied the joint demurrer to evidence filed by accused Detera, Bolayog and Alcazar for lack of merit. A petition for demurer to evidence means a plea to the court to declare as insufficient the evidence submitted by the prosecution.
According to the anti-graft court, there exists sufficient evidence to convict Espino and his co-accused for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, unless they presented strong evidence in their favor.
“An evaluation of the prosecution’s testimonial and documentary evidence in this case reveals a prima facie case of violation of Section 3(e) of RA No. 3019, warranting the accused to go forward with the defense evidence,” the decision stressed.
Section 3 ( e ) of RA No. 3019 states: “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 shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.”
“Stated otherwise, the prosecution’s evidence is prima facie sufficient to prove the criminal charges, subject to the defense that may be presented in the course of a full-blown trial,” the anti-graft court said, adding that “there appears to be prima facie showing of conspiracy” with respect to accused Espino and five other co-accused.
“The Court’s finding of prima facie case against them only meant that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to sustain its proposition that accused may have committed the offense charged, and if unrebutted, such would be the conclusion,” the decision further said.
“Associate Justices Sarah Jane Fernandez and Karl Miranda concurred with the ruling.
In 2016, the Ombudsman filed the charges against Espino and former provincial administrator Baraan for allegedly unlawfully allowing illegal black sand mining in Pangasinan through the issuance of a small-scale mining permit (SSMP) to Alexandra Mining and Oil Ventures Inc. on June 29, 2011 when Espino was the provincial governor.
Alexandra Mining officials Cesar Detera, Edwin Alcazar, Lolita Bolayog, Denise Ann Sia Kho Po, Annlyn Detera, Cynthia Camara, Glenn Subia and Emiliano Buenavista were included as private respondents.
The Ombudsman prosecutors said the area affected by the illegal black sand mining was in Barangay Sabangan, which is located in the mouth of a river that flows to the Lingayen Gulf.
A separate graft case alleged that Espino, Baraan, and Provincial Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Officer Alvin Bigay were named defendants together with Xypher Builders Inc. directors Michael Ramirez, Avery Pujol, Camara and Bolayog.
“In the instant [case], the prosecution satisfactorily established, at least by prima facie evidence, conspiracy by and between accused public officials Amado Espino, Rafael Baraan and Alvin Bigay and accused private individuals Cesar Detera, Lolita Bolayog and Edwin Alcazar,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The anti-graft court noted that “the overt acts of the said accused tend to point to a joint purpose and design, concerted action and community of interest in conducting a soil re-mediation and/or magnetite and mineral extraction activities.”
In the case of Espino and Baraan the anti-graft court said their respective positions made them responsible for the issuance of the small-scale mining permit to Alexandra Mining and a government gratuitous permit in favor of Xypher Builders despite the lack of requirements.
It said that without such permits, there would have been no illegal extraction of black sand or magnetite sand from the Lingayen Gulf.
Detera and Bolayog were implicated because of their involvement and knowledge of the day-to-day operations of the mining companies.
Bigay, as PHUDCO official, and Alcazar, as Xypher executive, were included for their participation in applying for the sand and gravel permit as well as the private gratuitous permit which led to the illegal extraction of black sand.
“We likewise find a semblance of truth in the prosecution’s theory that accused Bigay was a willing accomplice in the attempt to legalize the extraction of black/magnetite sand from Barangay Sabangan,” the Sandiganbayan stressed.
However, the court held that no such proof of conspiracy or participation was attributable to defendants Cynthia Camara, Gina Alcazar, Ann Lyn Detera, Denise Ann Sia Kho Po and Glenn Subia.
It said the fact that the latter group were incorporators or members of the board of directors is not enough basis to charge them as co-conspirators.
“No allegation was made, much less proof adduced, showing that they performed overt acts aimed at the same criminal design,” it added.