Tuguegarao mayor cleared of graft
The Sandiganbayan has acquitted Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano of graft over a parking terminal project for which he was dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman in February last year.
Soriano was reinstated when the Court of Appeals downgraded his dismissal to a 90-day suspension for granting alleged unwarranted benefits to a parking terminal operator.
He was sued for issuing the firm, One Way Parking Terminal Inc. (Owpti), a provisional permit to operate on Dec. 20, 2013, without securing a city council authorization.
In a 36-page decision dated May 11, the Sandiganbayan said Soriano “recognized the authority of the Sangguniang Panlungsod to act on the application for franchise by the mere issuance of a provisional permit [that was valid for 120 days].”
The council eventually authorized Owpti through a resolution approved on Sept. 30, 2014.
But the resolution was vetoed by Soriano’s successor, then Mayor Engelbert Caronan Jr., on Oct. 20, 2014.
The Sandiganbayan decision acknowledged the urgency of the terminal project, saying it was meant to address the “dismal state of the flow of traffic” and the loss of revenue purportedly caused by the operation of illegal terminals within the city center.
Soriano’s actions were “devoid of any willful intent to commit a criminal act,” so his decision to issue a provisional permit ahead of the council’s authorization “could only be tantamount to a simple misconduct and certainly not criminal in nature,” the antigraft court said.
‘Victory of the people’
Reached for comment on Monday, Soriano said the acquittal was the “victory of the people,” as he urged Congress to review Republic Act No. 6770, which established the Office of the Ombudsman.
He said the Ombudsman had been allowed to “emasculate the Local Government Code.”
“Even anonymous letters from unverified sources are being entertained by the Ombudsman,” he said.
He said the Ombudsman ruling cost him the mayoral post for seven months until the appeals court allowed his reinstatement in September 2017 after he served his suspension.
Soriano, a former Philippine National Police official, has a pending graft case for granting special permits to stall operators during a festival in Tuguegarao.
He is also facing charges over the alleged anomalous purchase of rubber boats and helicopters when he served as PNP deputy chief for operations. —Reports from Vince F. Nonato and Villamor Visaya Jr.
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