MANILA, Philippines—The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Wednesday sentenced to up to 10 years in jail an incumbent Sorsogon congressman after finding him guilty of graft and falsification for wrongly classifying a government lot to favor a private claimant more than 10 years ago.
The court’s 3rd Division also disqualified from holding any public office Sorsogon 2nd District Rep. Jose Solis, who is running for governor in the coming elections.
The court also found guilty of graft his co-accused Florencia Garcia-Diaz, the private claimant who stood to benefit from the wrong classification of almost 5,000 hectares of the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija.
Solis, who was present when the decision was promulgated on Wednesday afternoon, was planning to appeal his conviction. His lawyers, however, refused to give any statement when approached by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The Office of the Ombudsman filed graft charges against Garcia and Solis, a former administrator of the National Mapping and Resource Information Administration (Namria). Included in the graft complaint were former Solicitor General Ricardo Galvez; former Namria officer-in-charge Salvador Bonnevie; former Remote Sensing and Resource Data Analysis Department (RSRDAD) Virgilio Fabian Jr.; and senior remote sensing technologists Ireneo Valencia and Arthur Viernes.
It also filed falsification charges against Solis, Bonnevie, Fabian, Valencia and Viernes.
The Sandiganbayan earlier dismissed the case against Galvez after he died in 2005 while it acquitted Bonnevie, Valencia and Viernes of the charges against them. Fabian remains at large.
The cases stemmed from the compromise agreement in May 1999 between Diaz and Galvez: The Office of the Solicitor General agreed to withdraw its opposition to Diaz’s ownership of at least 4,689 hectares of government property.
The lot is part of the Nueva Ecija military reservation and therefore cannot be registered to any private owner. But a survey released by Namria and signed by Solis in February 1998 said the lot Diaz was claiming was already outside the government property.
This survey report became the basis of the settlement.
Namria has the power to “classify, reclassify, assess and re-assess lands in the public domain.”
But the court said the agreement was “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government” as earlier ruled by the Court of Appeals, which dismissed in a 1992 ruling the original claim on the Fort Magsaysay property.
The Sandiganbayan said: “In effect, the Republic gave away an inalienable and unregistrable part of the public domain in favor of a private individual, because in the first place, there was nothing to compromise, as the Republic owns the land.”
The decision penned by Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz added that it was Namria’s survey, signed by Solis, which gave the illegal settlement a “semblance of propriety and legitimacy.”
In his defense, Solis denied he knew Diaz. He told the court it was the Solicitor General who requested for a survey of Fort Magsaysay.
He said the report that found the property Diaz was claiming to be outside Fort Magsaysay was prepared by his subordinates and that he did not participate in the actual survey.
But the court said the “participation of accused Solis, the highest authority in Namria, being its administrator, completed the conspiracy and complemented the whole scheme.”
The court said Solis’ defense that he did not bother to examine the files submitted to him as the highest authority in the office was “incredible” considering that declaring 4,689 hectares to be outside Fort Magsaysay “is certainly a decision of great importance.”
By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer