SC clears Erap, Velarde

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court upheld a decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing the plunder and graft charges filed against former President Joseph Estrada, El Shaddai leader Mariano “Mike” Velarde, his son Franklin and 16 others in connection with the purchase of P1.22 billion right of way in C-5 linking the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Project.

The SC, in a 68-page resolution, junked the petition for review filed by lawyer Ernesto Francisco, Jr. seeking the reversal of the Dec. 2001 ruling issued by former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto declaring as legal the acquisition of Velarde’s properties.

Aside from Estrada, also cleared were former Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, former Public Works Secretary and Toll Regulatory Board chairman Gregorio Vigilar, former Prime Minister Cesar Virata of the Coastal Road Corp. and Luis Virata, and Manuel Zamora.

Also cleared were former TRB officials Mariano Benedicto II, Ramon Dumaual, and Ruben De Ocampo; Frisco San Juan, and Arsenio Yulo, former PEA chairmen; Patrick Gatan, Luis Medina-Cue, Soledad Media-Cue, Rey Divino Daval-Santos and Silvestre De Leon.

The Court held that Desierto did not commit grave abuse of discretion because the order was based on substantial evidence.

In his complaint, Francisco questioned Estrada’s apparent haste to purchase the Parañaque lot owned by Velarde’s AMVEL Land Corporation. He also claimed that the lot was “outrageously overpriced.”

Velarde, however, argued that the properties were zoned and classified as commercial areas.

Desierto ruled that the assailed transaction actually benefited the government in the form of savings amounting to P369.9 million.