MANILA - The Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday filed before the Sandiganbayan graft and malversation charges against two cabinet secretaries and several other officials during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the P900-million Malampaya fund scam.
Former Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman were charged with 97 graft and 97 malversation with falsification cases by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Also charged were former Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) officials Narciso Nieto, Teresita Panlilio, Angelita Villapa Cacananta and Ronald Venancio, and private individuals Rene Maglanque, Janet Lim Napoles, Jo Christine Lim Napoles, James Christopher Lim Napoles, Reynald Lim, Ruby Tuason, Evelyn De Leon, Ronald Lim, John Lim, Eulogio Rodriguez, Simplicio Gumafelix, John Raymund De Asis, Rodrigo Galay, Alejandro Garro, Paquito Dinso Jr., Gerald Apuan, Napoleon Sibayan and Ma. Winnie Villanueva.
Among the private individuals accused, Napoles and Tuason were also tagged in the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund scam, cases stemming from which are currently on trial at the anti-graft court.
The Ombudsman alleged that Andaya approved DAR's request, through Nieto, for a P900-million release from the Malampaya Fund despite the "lack of any clear basis for the specified amount.”
He also allegedly “approved and signed a Special Allotment Release Order and Pangandaman’s request for the issuance of the Notice of Cash Allocation even prior to the review of DBM Budget and Management Bureau E Director Nora Oliveros and despite the latter’s observations on the lack of supporting documents."
The Ombudsman said officials of the Department of Budget and Management and DAR conspired with representatives from 12 non-government organizations (NGOs) in illegally disbursing the funds meant for relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng in 2009.
Napoles and the other private individuals included in the case supposedly forged signatures and fabricated documents for ghost projects and paid commissions to Pangandaman through Maglanque, Nieto, Panlilio and Tuason.
Andaya, currently representative of the 1st district of Camarines Sur, said he is confident that he would be eventually cleared from the case.
“I welcome the filing of the case, confident that at the end, when my side will be fully heard and the evidence I submit will be appreciated, truth will prevail and I shall be acquitted of the charges against me,” Andaya said in a statement.
The respondents were at first charged with plunder and graft, but the cases were downgraded to graft and malversation when they were elevated to the Sandiganbayan.
“Let me note that the charges have been degraded from plunder to malversation, which means that the original indictment actively sought has been debunked,” Andaya said.
The Office of the Ombudsman said the downgrade came after the motions for reconsideration filed by the respondents last September were partially granted.
Arroyo, now a Pampanga Representative, and her Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita were initially included in the cases but were eventually dropped in 2016 because of “insufficiency of evidence”.