ombudsman

Jackpot winner! Ombudsman loses bid to forfeit ex-DPWH exec’s alleged ill-gotten properties

The Sandiganbayan has rejected a case seeking to forfeit in the government’s favor the multimillion-peso properties owned by former Department of Pubic Works and Highways (DPWH) Central Luzon director Romeo Panganiban—who cited sweepstakes winnings as one of the sources of his alleged ill-gotten wealth.

In a recent 37-page decision, the court’s 2nd Division said the Ombudsman prosecutors failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that the following properties were ill-gotten:

– a four-story commercial buiding in Sta. Cruz, Laguna worth P2 million;
– a residential house and lot in Alabang Village, Muntinlupa City worth P24.8 million;
– a three-bedroom house and lot in Pasadena, California, worth P12.54 million;
– a 200-square meter residential lot in Sta. Cruz, Laguna worth P146,000, and;
– other properties worth a total of P10.3 million.

As a small comfort for the Ombudsman, the court declared a 256-square meter residential house and lot in Los Baños, Laguna, worth P1.28 million to be ill-gotten and ordered its forfeiture in favor of the government.

Ombudsman prosecutors had questioned Panganiban’s wealth for allegedly being out of proportion to his accumulated income. But, the court found the case to be anchored on “mere conjectures and suppositions” and unsubstantiated allegations.

For one, Panganiban was able to explain that he bought the Sta. Cruz commercial property for only P200,000 in November 1982. When he mortgaged the property, it was valued at P450,000 in 1993. The value increased further due to improvements.

The money he used to buy the land came from a P250,000 jackpot won in a sweepstakes draw in May 1982, as supported by a certification by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

As for the California property, the court found nothing in the records to show it was acquired “through illegal use of government funds.”

Prosecutors also questioned Panganiban’s foreign travels with his spouse, but the court noted that only evidence of their depature and arrival dates was presented and the expenditures were not even shown.

In ordering the forfeiture of the Los Baños property purchased in June 1994, the court found its omission from Panganiban’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for that year.

“Hence, the plaintiff Republic has preponderantly presented proofs that indicated that the Los Baños property was indeed an ill-gotten wealth of Romeo Panganiban,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna.

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