Ex-Cebu mayor, 3 others convicted for illegal fund use
CEBU CITY — A former mayor in a city in northern Cebu and three other officials were found guilty by the antigraft court in relation to the alleged anomalous diversion of P20 million in public funds intended for farmers, fisherfolk, and other marginalized sectors in 2007.
The Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division convicted former mayor Celestino Martinez III of Bogo City, who currently serves as an ex officio member of the Cebu Provincial Board as president of the province’s Liga ng mga Barangay (league of villages). Also found liable for violating Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) were Crescencio Verdida, Rhett Minguez, and Julio Ursunal Jr., the former municipal accountant, treasurer, and assistant treasurer, respectively, of Bogo, which became a city in 2008 while Martinez was still the mayor.
All four accused were sentenced to serve six to 10 years in prison for “causing undue injury” to the government and the intended beneficiaries.
Martinez and Ursunal also faced an additional six- to 10-year prison term for “entering on behalf of the government into a maliciously and grossly disadvantageous contract” with the town’s employees’ cooperative.
The four officials were ordered to pay P20 million in civil liabilities to the national government through the Bureau of Treasury.
They were also perpetually disqualified from holding any position in government while all their retirement benefits were forfeited, according to the Sandiganbayan resolution dated Feb. 28 but only made public on Wednesday.
Martinez, who is running for Cebu’s fourth district congressional seat in May, said he would contest the Sandiganbayan ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.
“Such a decision isn’t final and executory yet as the same is still subject for a reconsideration or appeal—a remedy afforded to us under the Rules of Court,” he said in a text message to the media here on Wednesday.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed at the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas in 2007 over the alleged irregular use of a P20-million grant that the locality received from the Department of Agriculture in Central Visayas, through its Ginintuang Agrikulturang Makamasa (GAM) program, upon the request of Martinez’s mother, Clavel Asas-Martinez, then the representative of Cebu province’s fourth congressional district.
Records showed that the local government transferred the fund to the Bogo Municipal Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative (BMEMPC), as its partner in implementing livelihood projects under GAM.
However, the Ombudsman found out that none of the assistance went to the town’s farmers, fishermen, and members of other marginalized sectors who were identified as GAM beneficiaries.
The Sandiganbayan said Martinez committed gross inexcusable negligence when he transferred the P20 million to BMEMPC without prior authorization from the municipal council.
It also described as “threadbare excuse” the claim of the accused that the supposed GAM beneficiaries were not ineligible because they moonlighted as “weekend farmers.”