Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 3) — The Sandiganbayan acquitted Surigao del Sur 1st District Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. and two others in a graft case involving a 2010 chess sponsorship grant when they were officials at the Local Water Utilities Administration.
In a 24-page ruling dated March 1, the anti-graft court overturned its previous guilty verdict against Pichay, Emmanuel Malicdem and Wilfredo Feleo for lack of evidence. Pichay was former chairman of the LWUA Board of Trustees, while Malicdem and Feleo were ex-officials.
“Upon re-evaluation of the records of the case, the court finds no sufficient evidence to prove that the extension by LWUA of the 2010 sponsorship grant to NCFP (National Chess Federation of the Philippines) necessitated the approval of accused Pichay’s office,” the Sandiganbayan said.
This sets aside its October 2020 ruling, which found the three guilty of graft for approving and releasing a ₱1.5-million grant to the NCFP for an international chess championship tournament. At the time, Pichay was concurrent NCFP president. The chess tournament was also named after him.
The officials were sentenced to imprisonment of at least six years and a month, and a maximum of eight years. They were also barred from public office and were ordered to reimburse the ₱1.5 million, plus an interest of 6% per year from the decision’s finality.
A month after their conviction, the three filed aan appeal.
Pichay said the prosecution failed to prove he personally approved NCFP’s sponsorship request. He also said the sworn statement of another ex-LWUA official, Manolo Kagahastian, against him is “hearsay evidence” and lacks basis.
While the court was not persuaded by Pichay’s assertion that Kagahastian’s statement was hearsay, it acknowledged such is “insufficient to prove the truth or falsity of the facts stated therein.”
The Sandiganbayan also said the conspiracy between Malicdem and Feleo was not established beyond reasonable doubt.
“The claim of the accused that they ‘relied in good faith’ that the sponsorship request will be treated by COA (Commission on Audit) in the same way as the 2009 grant is not without basis,” the court added.
Because a similar sponsorship grant was approved by COA in 2009, Malicdem and Feleo said they had the impression that the 2010 grant would be cleared as well.
With the three’s acquittal, the court ordered that the cash bonds they posted be released.