MANILA, Aug. 8— The Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) has filed criminal charges against an investigator and his cousin in connection with an aborted PHP3-million extortion.
The Ombudsman charged Associate Graft Investigation Officer III Leonardo Nicolas Jr. and his cousin, Labor Arbiter Isagani Laurence Nicolas of the National Labor Relations Commission-Dagupan City Branch, for direct bribery and violation of Section 7(d) of Republic Act No. 6713, or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees”.
The bribery charges were filed before the Sandiganbayan while the charges for RA 6713 were filed before the Lingayen, Pangasinan Municipal Trial Court (MTC).
Nicolas Jr. was under surveillance for several weeks after the Ombudsman received a tip that the investigator, pretending to be a lawyer, was trying to extort PHP3 million from local officials in Pangasinan in exchange for the dropping of complaints undergoing fact-finding investigation.
The complaint stated that Nicolas Jr. contacted Pangasinan Legal Officer Geraldine Baniqued requesting a meeting and claimed that the Ombudsman was conducting an investigation against Bugallon Mayor Jumen Anthony Espino.
During the meeting in May 2017, Nicolas Jr. asked for PHP150,000 to PHP250,000 per allegation, or a total of PHP1.35 million because the complaint contained nine allegations.
Afterwards, several text messages were sent by Nicolas Jr. to Baniqued insisting the payment of money in exchange for the dropping of charges.
On July 14, 2017, a text message was sent by Labor Arbiter Nicolas to the Pangasinan Provincial Accountant claiming that he knew of someone who could help them facilitate their cases with the Ombudsman and requested for an appointment.
That evening at Lenox Hotel in Dagupan City, the cousins Nicolas met with local officials of Pangasinan presenting fake documents on three bogus Ombudsman cases.
Nicolas Jr. claimed that he could facilitate the dismissal of the three cases in exchange for PHP1 million per case.
On July 21, 2017, a joint operation was led by the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in a resort in Lingayen, Pangasinan.
During the entrapment operation, the respondents were caught red-handed receiving the marked money.
Nicolas Jr. was also caught with a bogus copy of an evaluation report purportedly issued by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO).
The fake evaluation report was presented in exchange for PHP3 million.
“Respondents worked in tandem- respondent Leonardo communicating with Atty. Baniqued, and respondent Isagani contacting complainant and later on introducing to him respondent Leonardo as an OMB lawyer – all with the end goal of demanding money from the Espino family to facilitate the dismissal of fictitious cases against complainant Espino and Mayor Espino. That the respondents were a team in their attempt at extortion is further proven by their presence during the pre-arranged meeting when the PHP3million was supposed to change hands,” the Ombudsman said.
On July 24, 2017, the Ombudsman issued the preventive suspension orders against the two respondents for a period of six months.
Under the Revised Penal Code (RPC), direct bribery is committed by a public officer who receives, directly or through another, some gift or present, offer or promise in consideration of the commission of some crime, or any act not constituting a crime, or to refrain from doing an official act relating to the exercise of functions as a public officer.
On the other hand, RA No. 6713 prohibits all public officials and employees from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirect any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value in connection with any operation being regulated by his office.