The Philippine Ombudsman has affirmed its indictment of former provincial governor Jeorge “ER Ejercito” Estregan and eight other individuals for graft in connection with the unlawful collection of insurance fee from tourists and boatmen when he was still mayor of Pagsanjan town, the tourist capital of Laguna province.
In a statement, the Ombudsman said probable cause for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act 3019) was firmly established against Ejercito and his co-respondents who were identified as Sangguniang Bayan members Crisostomo Vilar, Arlyn Lazaro-Torres, Terryl Gamit-Talabong, Kalahi Rabago, Erwin Sacluti, Gener Dimaranan and Ronaldo Sablan.
Another respondent, Marilyn Bruel, the registered owner of First Rapids Care Ventures (FRCV), was also included as private respondent in the case.
According to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Estregan and the other respondents violated the law when they entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with FRCV in 2008 regarding the insurance policies of boatmen and tourists visiting the Pagsanjan Falls without conducting a public bidding.
“Despite being disqualified (for lack of license and authority from the Insurance Commission to engage in the insurance business) and without the requisite public bidding, respondent Estregan proceeded to enter into and execute the MOA with FRCV,” Morales said.
“Worst, respondent SB immediately ratified and approved the MOA inspite of its obvious irregularities and flaws and even after FRCV failed to put up the required performance bond within the specified period,” she added.
Carpio also noted that the SB members through their 2008 ordinance “paved the way for the shortening of the process which allowed respondent Estregan to make direct negotiations with FRCV for a contract which otherwise must pass the procurement process.”
The Ombudsman records showed that FRCV received P43 (US $.91) for every P1,000 (US $21) paid by the tourist for a boat trip to the world famous Pagsanjan rapids. From October 2009 to May 2010, the FRCV received a total
P3.07million (around US $63,829) as its share of the tourist payments for the boat rides.
Estregan, a character actor-turned-politician, denied the charges.
“This is a desperate move of the Liberal Party. They want to get the 1.6 million votes of Laguna. They are doing everything in their power to get me out because I’m the man to beat. They make up cases against me, they’re desperate,” Estregan said.
Estregan was unseated as Laguna governor by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in May 2014 for election overspending during the 2013 elections. He is now seeking his former post under the United Nationalist Alliance of presidential candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay, who himself is accused of graft.