Sunday, October 18, 2009

Odol Gonzales Jr. faces criminal raps in Sandiganbayan

Sayang. Bad timing.
Just as the elections are up and coming, the venerable and honorable Valencia mayor Rodolfo “Odol” V. Gonzales, Jr. will be facing criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan for graft and corruption.
This came through a now-irreversible order of the Supreme Court.
Together with Gonzales, also facing the same criminal raps are his municipal treasurer Rolando B. Obanana and two private contractors Alex and Dominador Abelido.

The nature of the criminal raps

The criminal charges against Gonzales and company, stems from his release of what is called “retention money” (peoples’ money) to a private contractor, even if this was prohibited by the regional trial court, through an order called a writ of preliminary attachment.
Under the anti-graft and corrupt practices act, the penalty for corruption is only ten years maximum imprisonment, and perpetual disqualification from public office.
Procedurally, after the criminal information is filed, a warrant of arrest would likely be issued.
But not to worry.
This crime is bailable.
Just as we hear that the promising Valencia mayor, is being talked about to be a vice-gubernatorial candidate in next years elections, he now has this impending criminal charge in the graft court, the Sandiganbayan.
But we still hope, that whoever the gubernatorial candidate picking mayor Gonzales as running–mate will be, would overlook the fact that he will be having a vice-gubernatorial partner with a pending criminal case before the Sandiganbayan for graft and corruption.
Hopefully, voters would not see mayor Gonzales as “political baggage”, with the pendency of his corruption charge.

The parties to the case

What is this criminal case involving Rodolfo “Odol” Gonzales Jr.?
The facts of the case can be gathered from the Supreme Court website in this address:
The case (G.R. No. 169338) is entitled New Bian Yek Commercial, Inc. versus Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas), Rodolfo V. Gonzales Jr., Rolando B. Obanana (municipal treasurer of Valencia) and Erwin Vergara, the provincial attorney, Alex and Domindor Abelido, the private contractors.
This was decided last January 20, 2009.
A motion for reconsideration was filed, but was denied in March.

The facts of the case

The writer of the decision, Justice Renato Corona, narrated the facts like a news item.
Very simple.
On August 13, 2000, the municipality of Valencia Negros Oriental awarded to Legacy Construction (Legacy), a corporation owned by respondents Alex Abelido and Dominador Abelido, the P14.6-million, 300-day-contract for the improvement of its waterworks system (Valencia project).
In connection with the Valencia project, Legacy, the contractor , through its project engineer, Jaime Lu, bought from petitioner New Bian Yek Commercial, Inc. pipes worth P2.8-million.
As payment for the pipes, Lu issued two personal checks to Bian Yek, which bounced or were dishonored.
Because Legacy had already received a significant portion of the contract price from the municipality, Bian Yek demanded payment for the pipes (amounting to P1,766,950) on December 11, 2002.
Legacy, however, ignored petitioner’s demand.
On April 15, 2002, Bian Yek requested mayor Rodolfo V. Gonzales, Jr., to pay for Legacy’s obligation using the retention money withheld by the municipality for the Valencia project.
Unsure (kuno) of what to do, Gonzales referred the matter to Negros Oriental provincial attorney, respondent Erwin B. Vergara.
On January 29, 2003, Bian Yek filed a complaint for sum of money with a prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary attachment against Legacy, Alex Abelido, Lu and the municipality of Valencia in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Dumaguete City, Branch 44.
On February 4, 2003, Vergara issued an opinion to Gonzales’ query favoring the release of the retention money by the municipality to Legacy.
Meanwhile, after conducting the requisite hearing, the RTC found that Alex Abelido had left the country.
There was a balance of the contract price (amounting to P3 million) which was the only fund Bian Yek could run after to recover Legacy’s liability.
Thus, in its February 7, 2003 order, the RTC ordered the issuance of a writ of preliminary attachment.
The court prohibited Gonzales or his agents or representatives from releasing any payment (including the retention money) to Legacy.

But what did Gonzles do?

Despite the prohibition by the court, Gonzales adopted Vergara’s recommendation and instructed the municipal treasurer Rolando Obañana, to release the retention money to Legacy on March 12, 2003.
This prompted Bian Yek, on November 19, 2004, to file a criminal complaint against mayor Gonzales, his treasurer Obanana, and the provincial attorney Erwin Vergara, and the contractor in the Office of the Ombudsman.
Bian Yek alleged that Gonzales, Vergara and Obañana allegedly violated Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) when they released the retention money to Legacy in spite of the February 11, 2003 writ of preliminary attachment
It was alleged that they conspired with the Abelidos in depriving Bian Yek of payment for Legacy’s just obligation.

Ombudsman dismissed complaint

Surprisingly, on March 10, 2005, the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint against Gonzales and others because they were acting in good faith in following the opinion of the provincial attorney Vergara.
So Bian Yek went to the Supreme Court to question the Ombudsman dismissal.

Ruling of the court

The Supreme Court reversed the dismissal by the Ombudsman.
Contrary to the ombudsman’s view, the Supreme Court said there is basis to believe that mayor Gonzales and treasurer Obanana unduly injured Bian Yek when they released the retention money despite a prohibition by the regional trial court.
In effect, by releasing the retention money even with the prohibition by the regional trial court, Gonzales and Obanana gave unwarranted benefits to the contractor Legacy and the owner Abelido.

Ombudsman: grave abuse of discretion

The ombudsman committed a grave abuse of its discretion in dismissing the complaint of Bian Yek, the Supreme Court ruled.
As a result mayor Rodolfo Gonzales Jr, treasurer Obanana, and the contractors Alex and Dominador Abelido will have to face corruption charges.
The provincial attorney was absolved, because he rendered his opinion favoring the release of the retention money, before the prohibition for its release issued by the regional trial court

The accused triumvirate ---the mayor, the treasurer and the contractors---are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
In the meantime, Gonzales, as an accused, can still run for public office while the criminal case is pending before the Sandiganbayan.
We wish the accused well, and the best of luck, and the best of health.
They will need it.


Anonymous said...

either way, the mayor/treasurer can be sued. for not releasing to legacy, they will be in breach of contract as the project seem to be have been finished, several months before.

by releasing the payment to legacy, they were sued and their political careers in jeopardy.

Jay Dejaresco said...

So since he could be sued either way, which would a sensible person prefer to face, a civil case of contractual breach, or a cirminal case of graft?
What should an ordinary law abiding citizen follow, a contractual committment, or an order of the court?
Besides, there is an attachment bond required to be posted by the plaintiff to take care of the costs of "contractual breach" (damages)
So why insist on releasing money when there is a court prohibition?
That is a $64-peso question.