Sandiganbayan orders arrest of SBMA chief, 15 Olongapo LGU officials for alleged graft

OLONGAPO CITY—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 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 on July 12 ordered the arrest of Paulino and 16 other co-accused after it granted the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration and set aside the April 1, 2022, resolution from the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division.

The Seventh Division earlier found no sufficient grounds for a probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest against the accused and dismissed the charges filed on February 6, 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 are Vice Mayor Aquilino Cortez; 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 rest of the co-accused are Tony-Kar Balde III of the City Planning and Development, Cristiflor Buduhan from 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 from the City Budget Office, who 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 the SM Central Mall.

However, the accused were cleared in 2019 by the Seventh Division, which ruled that the lease agreement was for commercial purposes and was thus outside the scope of the Build Operate and Transfer law.

In the recent resolution penned by Associate Justice Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega, however, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division pointed that after allowing the state to correct the defect in the amended information, the anti-graft court said 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.

It added that 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.”

Section 3(e) of RA 3019 defines the corrupt practices of 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.

Paulino and his co-accused have not yet issued any formal statement about the arrest warrant, but the SBMA chairman confirmed it during a flag-raising ceremony on Monday.

“I want to be transparent to everybody, so I’m telling you that your chairman has a warrant of arrest,” Paulino told SBMA employees.

He said the case was already dismissed some three years ago, but was revived “by people who have not much things to occupy them[selves] with.”

“This has something to do with my confirmation as SBMA chairman,” Paulino added, saying that he has already posted a bail of P30,000.