Winston Garcia, 10 others cleared of graft raps

THE Sandiganbayan cleared of graft charges Cebu gubernatorial candidate Winston Garcia and 10 other former officials of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) in connection with the awarding of a contract for an electronic membership card (eCard) project in 2004.

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

The anti-graft court granted the defense's motion to dismiss the case for violation of the Constitutional right of the accused on speedy case disposition.

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

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 violation of 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 Ombudsman said the former GSIS executives violated Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) when it awarded the multi-million GSIS eCard project to the Union Bank of the Aboitiz Group in May 2004 “without complying with the requirements/procedures” provided by law.

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

Last December 8, 2015, the former GSIS executives filed a motion asking the anti-graft court seeking to dismiss the criminal charges for lack of probable cause and to remand the case to the Office of the Ombudsman.

They argued that the GSIS e-Card project was not covered by the government procurement law.

In dismissing the graft case, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that the case has been pending before the Ombudsman for about 10 years since it was filed in 2005.

It took four years for the Ombudsman to docket the complaint as a regular case in September 2011 until the charge sheet was filed in September 2015.

The anti-graft court said the Constitution enjoins the Ombudsman to “act promptly” on any complaint against any public officer or employee.

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

Likewise, the anti-graft court said that allegations of graft in the procurement of the eCard was more “speculative than real.”

In fact, the project is being implemented by the succeeding GSIS officials and that no party was affected by the banks that also submitted proposals. (GMD/Sun.Star Cebu)

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