Court allows ex-COA chief to post bail

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Friday, May 9, 2014

MANILA -- The Sandiganbayan First Division allowed on Friday former Commission on Audit (COA) chairman Reynaldo Villar to post P1.2 million bail for his temporary freedom since he is not being considered as a "flight risk" despite going into hiding due to his age.

In a resolution signed by Justices Efren dela Cruz, Rodolfo Ponferrada and Rafael Lagos, the court stated that it is "not convinced that accused Villar is a flight risk, considering his long untarnished government service prior to the filing of this case, his advance age (being 72 years old), his stature as a former COA chair and his still being a member of the Bar."

Villar is the co-accused of former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the plunder case regarding the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) scam.

The resolution added that the anti-graft court has yet to see other evidence "clearly ascribing upon accused Villar any act through which participation in the questioned transactions may be deduced."

"While the prosecution correctly posited that direct proof is not essential to establish conspiracy, it failed to point to any of its evidence that will establish any conspiratorial act on the part of accused Villar in the questioned transactions. Thus, the Court is of the view and so holds that the evidence adduced by the prosecution against accused Villar is not strong which will justify the continuous deprivation of his liberty by denying him his right to bail," it said.

Reynaldo Villar-Sunstar
Mugshot of Reynaldo Villar. (Photo Courtesy of Philippine National Police)

Last April 30, Villar pleaded not guilty on plunder case and maintained his innocence on the alleged conspiracy together with Arroyo and several other former PCSO officials in defrauding the government of P365,997,915 through unlawful transfer of confidential/intelligence funds of the agency from January 2008 to June 2010.

The former COA chief has been arrested recently by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in his house in Merville Park, Parañaque City.

Aside from Arroyo and Villar, other co-defendants in the case were former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte, former PCSO chairpersons Sergio Valencia and Manuel Morato; and former directors Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V, and Ma. Fatima A. S. Valdes; former budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas; former Commission on Audit chairman Reynaldo Villar and former COA-Intelligence Fund Unit head Nilda Plaras.

The Office of the Ombudsman said that these people have allegedly diverted funds from the PCSO operating budget to its confidential/intelligence fund during Arroyo's presidency.

It also noted the respondents "form a pattern, not only of misuse and raid of PCSO's CIF (confidential/intelligence funds) from 2008-2010, but also of illegal conveyance or disposition of cash advances disbursed therefrom, all the while taking advantage of their respective official functions."

To date, Uriarte and Valdes remain at large while Taruc, who voluntarily surrendered last March, refused to turn state witness against the former President and other co-accused in the case.

Taruc, Valencia, Morato, and Roquero were out on bail while the Pampanga lawmaker is currently under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC).

Plaras, meanwhile, was not been arrested upon order of the Supreme Court after she questioned the indictment.

The plunder complaint was filed before the Ombudsman by Jaime Regalario of Kilusang Makabang Ekonomiya, former Akbayan Party-list Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and former Bureau of Customs deputy commissioner fort intelligence Danilo Lim last July 26, 2011.

On Thursday, prosecution witness COA Intelligence and Confidential Fund Audit Unit (ICFAU) chief Flerida Africa Jimenez practically cleared Arroyo during her cross-examination before the Sandiganbayan by saying that the Pampanga lawmaker is not a recipient of the fund and that "she is not the accountable officer for it."

Jimenez said Arroyo does not appear to be the recipient of the CIF released to the PCSO from 2008 to 2010 and that she is not the accountable public officer on the stated account.

The ICFAU is the office that audits specifically all the CIFs of all government agencies. (Sunnex)

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