Winston cleared, Sandiganbayan finds case baseless

THE Sandiganbayan cleared lawyer Winston Garcia and 10 former officials of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) of graft and corruption charges in connection with the awarding of a contract for an electronic membership card (e-Card) project in 2004.

Associate Justice Teresita Diaz-Baldos dismissed, for want of evidence, the case against Garcia, former GSIS president and general manager, and 10 other former executives.

She granted the defense’s motion to dismiss because it also violated the former GSIS officials’ right to a speedy disposition of cases.

“It is unfortunate that the office tasked to protect the people is the first to contribute to its hardship and suffering,” read the 15-page resolution.

The Sandiganbayan noted that the complaint filed against Garcia and company last April 1, 2005 remained pending for more than 10 years with the Office of the Ombudsman until it filed the corresponding case on Sept. 12, 2015.

“I feel vindicated. That case against me and my co-accused was without any legal leg to stand on from day one, and now the Sandiganbayan has affirmed that,” said Garcia, who is now running for governor of Cebu.

Also cleared of graft charges were former GSIS vice president Enriqueta Disuanco, senior vice president Benjamin Vivas Jr., board of trustees chair Hermogenes Concepcion Jr., and members Elmer Bautista, Fulgencio Factoran, Floriño Ibañez, Aida Nocete, Reynaldo Palmiery, Ellenita Tumala-Martinez and Leonora Vasquez-de Jesus.

In December 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman charged Garcia and 10 others with violating the anti-graft law for allegedly awarding the GSIS eCard project to Union Bank of the Philippines in May 2004 before the date for submission of bid proposals had been closed.

The e-Card project was created during the administration of President Gloria Arroyo to replace the more expensive and inefficient disbursing of payments via checks.

Last Dec. 8, 2015, the former GSIS executives asked the anti-graft court to dismiss the criminal charges for lack of probable cause.

In dismissing the case, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that it had been pending before the ombudsman for about 10 years after was filed in 2005.

Too long

It took years for the ombudsman’s office to docket the complaint as a regular case in September 2011, and it wasn’t until September 2015 that the charge sheet was filed.

“The court rules that on the ground alone of violation of speedy disposition of the case, this case ought to be dismissed outright,” said the Sandiganbayan.

“Excessive delay in the disposition of cases renders the rights of people guaranteed by various legislation inutile,” it added.

As for the allegation that the deal violated the government’s rules on limited-source bidding, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that Garcia and the other GSIS officials “approximated” compliance when the agency sent out invitations to submit proposals for the e-Card project to three government banks, before expanding the search to include private banks.

A technical committee that evaluated the proposals found Union Bank’s proposal “the most advantageous to the GSIS.”

Allegations of graft in the procurement of the e-Card were more “speculative than real,” the Sandiganbayan said, “considering that the project continued to be implemented by the succeeding officials of GSIS and no affected party, including the banks that submitted proposals, raised a whimper about it.”

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