Elizabeth Marcelo | Philstar Global | May 15, 2017

The Sandiganbayan has denied with finality the motion of former Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 general manager Al Vitangcol seeking the dismissal of his graft cases in connection with his alleged attempt to extort some $30 million from Czech company Inekon Group in 2012.

In a resolution promulgated on May 8, released to the media on Wednesday, the anti-graft court's Sixth Division maintained that there is no merit on Vitangcol's contention that the Sandiganbayan has already lost jurisdiction over the cases following the enactment of Republic Act 10660 or the "Act Strengthening Further the Functional and Structural Organization of the Sandiganbayan."

Vitangcol and his co-accused Wilson De Vera, one of the directors of maintenance provider PH Trams, are facing two counts each of violation of Section 3 (b) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The cases stemmed from Vitangcol and De Vera's alleged attempt to extort from Inekon Group some $30 million, which was later reduced to $2.5 million, in exchange for awarding to the company the contract for the supply of train coaches as part of the P3.8 billion MRT expansion project under the previous administration.

The respondents also allegedly insisted that officials of Inekon enter into a joint venture agreement with De Vera's group under a 60- to 40-percentage sharing (60 percent in favor of Inekon), in exchange for awarding to the company the contract for the maintenance of MRT 3.

In his motion for reconsideration on the Sixth Division's earlier denial of his motion to quash, Vitangcol insisted that under Section 2 of Republic Act 10660, a regional trial court shall have the "exclusive original jurisdiction" in cases that do not allege bribery or damage to the government or if the amount of the alleged bribery or damage to the government is below P1 million.

The court, in its new ruling, however, maintained that the law cited by Vitangcol does not apply to his cases since the charged offense was allegedly committed in July 2012 or almost three years prior to the implementation of RA 10660 in May 2015.

"The Court finds the contention of the accused-movant untenable...To reiterate, and considering that RA 10660 took effect on May 5, 2015, [it] is not a applicable to him or his cases," the resolution read.

The court ruled to proceed with Vitangcol's arraignment on June 15.

De Vera had earlier been arraigned in which he entered a "not guilty" plea.

The extortion try, which allegedly happened on July 9 to 10, 2012, was exposed by then Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar. The extortion attempt supposedly took place in Rychtar's house in Forbes Park in Makati City.

The contract for the supply of coaches was eventually awarded to CNR Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company of China while the maintenance contract was awarded to PH Trams after officials of Inekon supposedly refused to pay the amount allegedly being extorted by Vitangcol and De Vera.

Vitangcol and De Vera had earlier vehemently denied the allegations.