NUR Misuari, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and six other individuals are facing arrest on graft and malversation charges after the Sandiganbayan Third Division found probable cause to hold them for trial in connection with alleged fraudulent procurement contracts in 2000 and 2001, totaling P115.22 million.
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said he has yet to study how the court order would impact on ongoing peace and development discussions in Mindanao and the implementation of 1996 peace agreement between government and the MNLF led by Misuari.
“I got those same info only from newspapers. So I will have to validate before I can speculate,” he said.
Misuari’s faction at the MNLF is expected to submit proposals on peace efforts in Mindanao, which will be integrated with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission submitted earlier.
The MILF signed a peace agreement with government in 2014.
Misuari has standing arrest warrant for rebellion in connection with the “Zamboanga siege” in 2013, which left 200 dead. In November last year, the Pasig Regional Trial Court suspended the arrest warrant for six months after President Duterte asked Misuari to talk peace with government. Last May, the Pasig court suspended anew the implementation of the arrest warrant — for another six months – to allow Misuari to continue talks with government on the implementation of the 1996 peace pact.
The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division, in an 18-page resolution, denied all motions from different defendants seeking dismissal of the charges on alleged inordinate delay, absence of proof of conspiracy, unreliable evidence, and lack of basis for the filing of criminal cases.
It upheld the prosecution stand that documents on record sufficiently supported allegations that all the defendants participated in the anomalous transactions for the purchase of P31 million worth of “information technology package,” P46.26 million “multi-media information technology package,” and P37.96 million “educational materials.”
It also overruled arguments citing supposed violation of the defendants’ right to a speedy disposition of their cases as it noted that the pending cases were part of the “textbook scam” which involves numerous transactions, suppliers, and government agencies.
“Due to the number of transactions involved, the investigation, which entailed scrutinizing voluminous records and determining who among the numerous persons involved should be held liable, necessarily took some time. Given the circumstances surrounding the present cases, the Court finds that the time it took to determine the preliminary investigation is not unreasonable,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Named co-defendants in all six charges were Misuari and Director Leovegilda Cinches, chief accountant Pangalian Maniri, supply officer Sittie Aisa Usman – all of the Department of Education-ARMM.
DepEd-ARMM accountant Alladin Usi was charged in two counts each of graft and malversation.
ARMM resident auditor Nader Macagaan and private individuals Cristeta Ramirez of CPR Publishing and Lolita Sambeli of White Orchid Printing and Publishing House were each named co-accused in one count each of the same charges.
While bail bonds of P30,000 per count were recommended for the graft charges, the prosecution asked the court that the three malversation cases be deemed non-bailable because of the use of fraud in concealing the mishandling of government funds.
The Ombudsman said all three purchase orders were fictitious because there was no evidence that actual deliveries ever took place. This finding was the basis for the presumption that the defendants used the money for their own benefit.
The Sandiganbayan, however, noted that in one case of graft and one count of malversation through falsification, no document was submitted to the court that would show the participation of Misuari and Usman.
The anti-graft court gave the prosecution five days to present additional evidence in support of its allegation that both accused were part of the crime. Specifically, the Sandiganbayan questioned the absence from the case record of the purchase order and the inspection report that were supposedly signed by the two defendants.
“In the event that the evidence submitted fails to support the existence of probable cause, the Court may then dismiss the pertinent cases against them,” the court said.