June 25, 2019
THE Supreme Court on Monday absolved former senator Juan Ponce Enrile and several others of criminal liabilities covering alleged behest loans granted to a sugar miller in 1968 by the Philippine National Bank (PNB).
In a 15-page decision written by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr., the high court’s Second Division junked a petition for certiorari filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which had sought a reversal of the Office of the Ombudsman’s ruling dismissing the case.
Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Amy Lazaro Javier concurred.
The Ombudsman had cited lack of probable cause in rejecting the cases filed by the PCGG against PNB Directors Enrile, Roberto Benedicto, Antonio Diaz, Ismael Reinoso, Simeon Miranda, Renato Tayag, Juan Trivinio, Cesar Virata, Jose Macario Laurel 4th and Jose Leido.
Also absolved were Rafael Perez and Felicisimo Gonzalo, both former PNB-Dumaguete branch managers, and Tolong Sugar Milling Company Inc. (TSMCI) officers Ramon Escafio, Herminio Teves, Evelina Teves, Lorenzo Teves, Catalino Noel and Lamberto Macias.
In dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court said “the PCGG failed to show that the Ombudsman gravely abused its discretion when it dismissed the criminal complaint against the respondents. Instead, the instant petition is bereft of any statement or allegation purportedly showing that the Ombudsman exercised its power in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or hostility.”
The PCGG claimed that TSMCI was one of the many companies being investigated in connection with the grant of behest loans.
In 1968, PNB granted the sugar miller a standby irrevocable unconfirmed letter of credit in the amount of $27.8 million or P108.91 million to cover the importation of sugar machinery and equipment for a proposed sugar central in Sta. Catalina and Bayawan, both in Negros Oriental.
The loan, approved on March 20, 1968 under PNB Board Resolution 711, was purportedly secured by 51.2496 hectares of agricultural land; machinery and equipment; building and other improvements to be erected and/or installed in the company’s milling site; 3,000 hectares of the central-owned and -operated sugar plantation; and joint and solidary surety executed by TSMCI’s officers.
The PCGG said at the time of its incorporation on May 10, 1967, TSMCI only had P2 million in subscribed capital stock, of which just P500,000 was paid up and only P10 million in capitalization. The lands covered by loans had been appraised by PNB’s Dumaguete branch to be worth just P22,350 and were not in the name of the sugar firm.
The Ombudsman, however, junked the complaint for lack of legal basis. It said the PNB Board “exercised proper caution to ensure the chances of payment and that the loan was not under-collateralized.”
The anti-graft body argued that the PNB Board even required TSMCI to increase its paid-up capital as one of the conditions for the grant of the loan. It also pointed out that in October 1967, the PNB-Dumaguete branch had appraised the real properties offered by TSMCI as security as worth P111.2 million, more than sufficient to cover the amount of the loan.
“As pointed out by the Ombudsman, the complaint-affidavit is bereft of sufficient allegation and relevant documents to support the charges therein,” the Supreme Court ruled.
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