MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — Former Bukidnon representative and now Presidential Adviser on Environmental Protection Nereus “Neric” Acosta will comply with the 90-day preventive suspension ordered by the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division on Friday for alleged misuse of the pork barrel funds while a congressman.
Acosta told MindaNews in a telephone interview that he is awaiting the notice of suspension from Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. “It could be today, tomorrow or Monday,” Acost said, as he stressed that his suspension has “nothing to do with my present official positions” and that complying with the order “does not mean an admission of guilt.
In a statement issued to reporters Friday, Acosta, concurrent general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), said he will submit to the process and abide by the court order.
“I respect the institutional process and jurisprudence that says a preventive suspension can be imposed even when the accused occupies another position from that when the alleged transgression took place,” he said.
Acosta said the case, where he was accused of misusing his pork barrel fun in 2000 and 2001, in his first term as Bukidnon’s 1st district representative to Congress, has “nothing to do with my present official positions.”
He reiterated his complying with the suspension order does not mean admission of guilt, adding he is just adhering to the fundamental principle that all public officers must be held accountable at all times.
Acosta said he did not want to drag the Office of the President and LLDA into any controversy.
He told MindaNews that he pondered on challenging the court order or seeking a temporary restraining order but he decided to let it be.
But Acosta said his work on protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development continues.
He said his commitment will not waver to help the cause of protecting or rehabilitating ecosystems around the country and speak on the challenges of addressing climate change impacts during his 90-day suspension.
The Bukidnon Crusade against Graft and Corruption, which claimed to be an anti-corruption group, sued Acosta for allegedly using his pork barrel funds to give a P2.5-million solar tunnel dryer to the municipal government of Manolo Fortich in 2001, where his mother, Socorro, was mayor.
The group also alleged that another P2.5 million was transferred to the Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries (BINHI) Inc., and P5.5 million to Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative (BVPC), also a private entity.
The accusers pointed out that Mayor Acosta was a member and director of BVPC while Acosta’s aunt, Ma. Nemia Bornidor, was a member of the board of BINHI.
In December 2011, government prosecutors filed a motion before the Sandiganbayan that Acosta be suspended until the three graft charges against him are resolved.
In a six-page motion filed on December 5, 2011, special prosecutors Rabendranath Y. Uy and Ireneo M. Paldeng told the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division that under the Anti-Graft Law, suspension is mandatory of a public officer against whom a valid information has been filed for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property.
Acosta, his mother, Socorro Acosta, a former Manolo Fortich municipal mayor, and his aunt Ma. Nemia Bornidor were indicted for graft for alleged fraudulent handling of public funds amounting to P10.5 million.
Acosta was voted LLDA general manager by members of the board on September 19, 2011.
Earlier in August, he was appointed by President Aquino as presidential adviser for environmental protection.
He served as Bukidnon Representative from 1998 to 2007, ran for Governor against then reelectionist governor Jose Zubiri in 2007 but lost. In 2010, Acosta was among the members of the Senate slate of then presidential candidate, now President, Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Acosta lost his bid.
Acosta was expected to be named Environment Secretary after the year-long ban on appointment of candidates who lost in the elections lapsed in May 2011 but the President opted to name then acting secretary Ramon Paje to the post . A few months later, he was named to his present posts. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)