Sandiganbayan convicts ex-Iloilo town mayor of graft

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has convicted a former mayor of Iloilo province of graft over the misuse of funds meant for her town's projects.

The Sandiganbayan 2nd Division on April 5 convicted former Tigbauan town mayor Myrna Torres and municipal treasurer Manuel Tabalada Jr guilty of one count each of graft and malversation of public funds.

They were both sentenced to 6 to 8 years in jail for the graft case, and two to 4 more years for the malversation charge for a total of 8 to 12 years imprisonment.

Torres and Tabalada were also perpetually disqualified from holding government posts and were ordered to jointly pay a fine of P250,000 or the amount involved in the case – even after records showed that this had been returned to the municipal government.

Based on a separate information filed by the office of the Ombudsman in 2012, the Tigbauan municipal government received P250,000 from the President’s Social Fund in November 2002. It was found that Torres “misappropriated” the money intended for socio-civic projects in Tigbauan.

“In this case, both Torres and Tablada took advantage of the positions to facilitate the encashment of the check. Testimonial and documentary pieces of evidence presented before this Court point to the fact that the unity of action of Torres and Tabalada made possible the misappropriation of the PSF assistance,” the court said.

Torres claimed that the fund had been used as intended, but the court cited records that showed that the P250,000 was only deposited to the municipal government’s bank account in July 2007 – 5 years after the funds were released by the Office of the President.

“The foregoing clearly refutes accused Torres’ claims that the intended recipient benefitted from the President’s financial assistance,” the court said.

The court acquitted rural health nurse Joji Santillana, another defendant in the case, due to insufficient evidence to establish her participation in the crime.

In another case, the Sandiganbayan’s 7th Division on April 11 found Calinog town Mayor Alex Centena and several other municipal officials guilty of failure of an accountable officer to render accounts, instead of trying them for a graft case.

The others are municipal treasurer Valentin Sobretodo, municipal accountant Meriam Celeste, supply officer Jose Rex Casipe, acting municipal administrator Melanie Hilario, planning and development officer Rhoda Lyn Panizales, municipal engineer Jose Edeso Enriquez, and Sangguniang Bayan secretary Ana Lerio Caspillo.

Based on the original indictment of the officials filed in 2017, the respondents allegedly conspired to give unwarranted advantage to Feshan Philippines Incorporated when it was chosen as a liquid fertilizer supplier in 2004 without public bidding.

The P999,000-transaction was part of the so-called P728-million fertilizer fund scam linked to the 2004 presidential elections.

When the officials were arraigned in April 2018, all defendants except Centena pleaded not guilty to the graft charge, so the court entered a similar not guilty plea for the mayor.

The accused, however, proposed to enter into a plea bargain agreement during the preliminary conference. They agreed to plead guilty to a lesser offense to avoid a lengthy trial for the more serious offense of graft

The defendants were then only ordered to pay a fine of P5,000 each.

The court held them civilly liable for the full amount  spent on the fertilizers, and ordered them to pay P999,000 to the municipal government. – Rappler.com