Ex-Deped Zamboanga exec convicted anew, this time for diverting land reform project funds to teachers’ pay

The Sandiganbayan has again convicted former Department of Education (DepEd) Zamboanga Peninsula regional director Jesus Nieves, this time for the diversion of P6.35 million in agrarian reform support funds supposedly to the hazard pay of teachers—but which remains unaccounted for to this day.

In a recent 32-page decision, the court’s 1st Division sentenced Nieves to imprisonment of a minimum of 21 years up to a maximum of 27 years and 6 months for one count each of graft and malversation.

Nieves was ordered to a P6.35-million fine and was held civilly liable for an additional P6.35 million. He was also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

Prosecutors accused Nieves of authorizing the transfer of the funds of the Belgian Integrated Agrarian Reform Support Program (BIARSP) and the closure of its special bank account in 2007.

The court said Nieves did this with gross inexcusable negligence as his own testimony showed he merely relied on the transfer authorization presented by now-deceased subordinate Virginia Montero which only stated bank account numbers. He had apparently opted not to inquire further.

It also cited his admission that he did not review the list of teachers who would supposedly be the beneficiaries of the unaccounted hazard pay.

The court also found Nieves to be in evident bad faith because he admitted that he was required to inform project sponsors before transferring the funds and that he did not comply with an order to seek authorization from the DepEd secretary.

It also pointed out that Nieves should have known that the payment of teachers’ hazard pay was “not an intended expenditure from the special account purposely intended for a special project.”

“This alone should have sounded alarm bells in the mind of a reasonably prudent and accountable official, such as a Regional Director,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg.

While Nieves justified the diversion by saying there was a shortage of funds for teachers’ hazard pay, he could not cite the relevant figures.

“It is baffling then how one could say there is a shortage if there is no reference figure from which it can be determined,” said the court.

Earlier in November 2016, the court’s 1st Division sentenced Nieves to 8 to 18 years in prison for faking documents to cover up the misuse of P4.78-million pork barrel funds in 2006 to purchase education materials without the benefit of public bidding.

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