Sandigan acquits businessman in Surigao Norte bidding controversy

Sandigan acquits businessman in Surigao Norte bidding controversy

MANILA – The Sandiganbayan has cleared a private businessman of irregularities in a medicine supply contract allegedly in collusion with Surigao del Norte public officials in 1998

In a 20-page decision written by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg dated April 23, 2021 and released online, the Sandiganbayan First Division found businessman Jesse M. Peñaranda not guilty of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Peñaranda was charged along with provincial officials led by Surigao Governor Francisco Matugas.

Matugas was on the second of his three consecutive terms then. He won again in the 2019 polls.

The governor was cleared by the anti-graft court in 2009, along with the other officials, after it was ruled that prosecutors failed to substantiate the charges.

“With the acquittal of Governor Matugas and the other accused public officials, accused Peñaranda must likewise be held innocent of the charge against him. After all, a conspiracy is, by its nature, a joint offense,” the court said.

The charges arose from a medical and dental outreach program of the province called Panambay sa Barangay, which brought doctors and nurses to villages and gave away medicines.

A public bidding awarded contracts from October 1996 to February 1998 to a number of suppliers.

Rene Medina, a former provincial board member, received reports of overpriced medicines and medical supplies.

After verifying the prices, he asked the provincial board to request the Commission on Audit to probe the program.

State auditors found out, among others, that some bidders had financial interests in more than one establishment and that the province’s payments for the five winning bidders were received by one person, a certain JS TInio.

Fourteen checks with amounts ranging from PHP7,000 to PHP406,000 in payment to the winning bidders were deposited to a lone bank account under Jesse and Merne Peñaranda.

The checks were in the name of JSTInio, who endorsed the checks and allowed them to be deposited to the Peñaranda account.

The Sandiganbayan, in clearing Matugas and the other officials, however, said prosecutors failed to present evidence that the biddings were rigged and that there was overpricing.

The court also said “mere probabilities cannot substitute for proof required to establish the guilt of an accused beyond reasonable doubt.”

Associate Justices Efren N. Dela Cruz and Edgardo M. Caldona concurred. Benjamin Pulta / PNA –