Sandiganbayan convicts Surigao del Sur town mayor, village chief of graft
MANILA, Philippines – The mayor of Tago town in Surigao del Sur and a barangay (village) chairperson were found guilty of graft and malversation by the Sandiganbayan for misuse of government resources in 2014.
In its decision dated October 4, the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division said the prosecution was able to prove that Mayor Rogelio Pimentel and Barangay Unaban chairperson Herminigildo Reyes conspired in disadvantaging government, and that there was evident bad faith and manifest partiality demonstrated.
The graft and malversation of public property cases stemmed from Reyes’s decision to allow Pimentel use of 280 bags of cement and 286 round steel bars for the construction of the latter’s private resort. The construction materials were intended for a barangay solar dryer project.
“Accused Reyes, who had custody and control over the said construction materials, knowingly consented or permitted accused Pimentel to take the same from the Multi-Purpose Hall of Unaban, Tago, Surigao del Sur, to the private property of accused Pimentel in Soccoro, Surigao del Norte, and to use them in the construction of his private resort,” Sandiganbayan said.
“During the Provincial Agriculturist’s inspection on February 6, 2014, he discovered that the construction materials where missing from the Multi-Purpose Hall where they were kept,” the court added.
Pimentel admitted that the materials mentioned were indeed taken by him, but it was due to the request of barangay officials themselves to purchase the construction equipment as the village had no budget yet for labor and food, and that the materials may be damaged by incoming floods.
He also claimed that the construction materials were only transferred to a higher ground, as then Typhoon Agaton caused floods as high as four to six feet, and that he decided to replace the materials noted because some of the cement failed to harden.
Sandiganbayan dismissed the excuse as “flimsy and illogical”, reminding both accused that there are procedures in place to ensure the legal transfer of such equipment.
“Accused Pimentel and Reyes, being both public officials, are aware that there are pertinent rules on property disposal under the Local Government Code that must be complied with,” the anti-graft court’s decision penned by division chair Associate Justice Alex Quiroz said.
“However, no evidence was presented by them to prove compliance with the said rules. Furthermore, if their intention was merely to protect the materials from being destroyed, then accused Pimentel could have just undertaken to take the materials for safekeeping for the duration of the typhoon,” they added.
Five Sandiganbayan justices took part in deciding the case — with Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Ronald Moreno concurring and Associate Justices Bayani Jacinto and Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega giving out dissenting opinions.
According to Jacinto, the prosecution’s evidence was not enough to prove that Pimintel used the materials in his resort. He also noted that Pimentel never admitted that he used that government resources for his own gain.
“Paragraphs 6 and 14 of accused Pimentel and paragraphs 6 and 16 of Reyes’ Counter-Affidavits, as quoted in the majority opinion, only go as far as stating that the said materials were brought to Soccoro, Surigao del Sur — nothing more,” Jacinto claimed.
“Clearly, the conclusion that both accused admitted that the cement and steel bars were actually used in the construction of accused Pimentel’s resort is not accurate,” he added.
Both Pimentel and Reyes were sentenced to serve six years and one day to a maximum of eight years behind bars for the graft charge, and imprisonment of two years, four months, and one day up to a maximum of six years and one day for the malversation raps.
The Sandignabayan also ordered that the two be disqualified from holding public office, and ordered each to pay a fine of P121,366. /muf
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