Sandiganbayan convicts Rep. Pichay for graft for purchase of thrift bank shares during his time as LWUA chief

18 to 30 years total jail time meted on Pichay, former LWUA deputy administrator Feleo for 3 counts of graft

House Deputy Speaker Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. during the budget deliberations in September 2021. (Photo courtesy House of Representatves)

Pichay says he will exhaust all legal remedies in questioning ruling he describes as “baffling”

(Eagle News) – The Sandiganbayan has convicted outgoing Surigao Del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr., for three counts of graft for approving the purchase of a local thrift bank in Laguna when he was still the head of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) in 2009.

Pichay and then acting deputy administrator of LWUA, Wilfredo Feleo, was convicted for graft because of their failure to secure first the regulatory approval of the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (MB-BSP), the Department of Finance DOF), and the Office of the
President before approving the acquisition of the Express Savings Bank Inc.

Pichay was then the LWUA administrator.

Both Pichay and Feleo were meted six to 10 year jail time for each count of graft or a total of 18 to 30 years. This is on top of being perpetually barred from holding public office.

In the 66-page decision dated June 7, 2022, the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division convicted both Pichay and Feleo over the 2009 acquisition of a 60 percent voting stock of the ESBI owned by the WELLEX Group Inc (WGI) and Forum Pacific Inc. (FPI).

The anti-graft court, in its decision, said that because of the “irregular transactions” on ESBI, the government suffered losses in the amount of P780 million.

The Sandiganbayan said that the “prosecution was able to present sufficient evidence to prove that the regular transactions carried out by the LWUA officials” were committed “with gross inexcusable negligence.”

“Ultimately, the absence of the requisite MB approval resulted in losses on the part of the government in the total amount of P780 million,” the Sandiganbayan decision read.

The anti-graft court noted that Pichay and Feleo could not deny the fact that they knew of the requirement for a prior approval from the
Monetary Board before purchasing shares from the Laguna-based thrift bank.

“It cannot be denied that the accused Pichay and Feleo knew of this requirement as they had been in consultation with the Office of the President, the DOF, and BSP. They were specifically advised to secure prior approval of the MB. This advice was given before LWUA purchased ESBI shares,” it said.

-Inexcusable negligence, says Sandiganbayan-

Even if there was no bad faith on their part, the court said that their “haphazardness” and negligence was “inexcusable.”

“Even assuming that accused did not act in bad faith or with manifest partiality, their negligence under the circumstances was not only gross but also inexcusable,” the Sandiganbayan’s decision read.

Because of the actions of the two officials, LWUA got a 60 percent stake of ESBI worth P80 million, and made a P300 million deposit in the bank, as well as a capital infusion amounting to P400 million, according to the prosecution.

The Sandiganbayan said that their actions also gave unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference to ESBI owners and corporate and individual stockholders by transferring P780 million of LWUA funds to ESBI to increase the bank’s authorized capital stock, although the bank only had a realized value of negative P12,932,429 as of March 2009.

Before that, from 2005 to 2009, the ESBI had been experiencing “substantial net losses and capital deficits,” according to the prosecution.

The 66-page decision of the Sandiganbayan was penned by Associate Justice Lorifel L. Pahimna with the concurrence of Fourth Division Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona.

Reacting to the Sandiganbayan decision, Pichay said he would exhaust all legal remedies accorded to him by law.

He said that decision was “baffling” for him as he insisted that there was no undue to the government.

-Pichay cries conspiracy-

He also cited alleged “conspiracy” in the case where only he and Feleo were convicted when there were allegedly 22 accused.

“This is a case of conspiracy for allegedly violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019. Originally, there were 22 accused in this case which is why the recent decision of the Sandiganbayan came as a surprise,” he said.

He claimed that even the dispositive portion of the decision admits that no civil liability is adjudged against him in view of the fact that LWUA public funds invested in ESBI are under receivership and liquidation of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation.

“So it is baffling: how can there be undue injury to the government?” he said.

(Eagle News Service with a report from PNA)

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