MANILA -- The Sandiganbayan has placed three Department of Agriculture (DA) officials based in Davao City under a 90-day suspension during litigation.

Senior Agriculturists Melani Provido and Isabelita Buduan, and Administrative Officer Marie Ann Constantino stand trial for violation of Section 3(e) and (g) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”

In granting the motion filed by the Office of the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan cited Section 13 of RA No. 3019, which provides that any incumbent officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this law is pending in court shall be suspended from office.

The anti-graft court did not give credence to the argument of the defense that “they are not in a position to tamper with any kind of evidence as they are not the custodians of any relevant records, and that the deprivation of their salary as well as the humiliation and embarrassment that they will suffer will cause undue suffering and prejudice to them.”

The accused, who were all members of the Technical Working Group (TWG) on the procurement of disinfectants in 2012, were arraigned in January 2017. The Ombudsman found that the accused entered into a grossly and manifestly disadvantageous contract with FKA Agri-Chemical for the procurement of 38 drums of disinfectant amounting to PHP3.04 million, despite the existence of a lower bid from another qualified bidder amounting to only PHP2.65 million.

The anti-graft court that expounded that “Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019 is very straightforward. It is a preventive suspension, not a penalty, and its purpose is to prevent the accused public officer from hampering the prosecution by intimidating or influencing witnesses, tampering with documentary evidence, or committing further acts of malfeasance while in office.” (Ombudsman PR)