Sandigan suspends Rep. Leachon for 90 days over graft complaint
MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan has suspended for 90 days Oriental Mindoro Rep. Paulino Salvador Leachon over a criminal case filed by the late Nilo Baculo, a crusading community journalist who was gunned down in Calapan City in 2014.
Baculo, who had brought several charges against many police and local government officials in the province, filed the graft complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman against Leachon when he was still the mayor of Calapan.
Besides Leachon, the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division also ordered the suspension from office of Calapan city engineer Benjamin Acedera.
In a seven-page resolution dated March 31, the court did not compel House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to implement its suspension order on Leachon, his partymate in the ruling Liberal Party.
Instead, the court ordered Belmonte to submit a report if Leachon had voluntarily yielded to its decision as it warned the latter that he might be cited in contempt if he failed to “cease and desist from performing and/or exercising the functions and duties” as a lawmaker.
The case against the Oriental Mindoro congressman stemmed from the alleged illegal use of dump trucks owned by the city government in delivering truckloads of sand to a private property owned by Juan Vinas.
In ordering Leachon and Acedera’s suspension, the court described as “misguided” the prosecution’s decision to withdraw the criminal information against the accused in 2013 based on a supposed memorandum of agreement (MOA) between Vinas and the city government which, the court said, could be “inexistent or spurious.”
“Contrary to the prosecution’s assertion, there is sufficient evidence on record to support the findings in terms of the idea of probable cause,” the court ruled.
“The court affirms the validity of the information, for which both accused were already arraigned, and consequently, the propriety of suspending accused Leachon and Acedera from office pendente lite… is in order,” it added.
The resolution was signed by Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, chair of the Fourth Division, and Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Maria Christina Cornejo.
The court noted that the Supreme Court did not issue any injunction order barring it from proceeding with hearing the case against Leachon and Acedera.
In fact, it said the high court denied Leachon’s petition for certiorari on Nov. 12, 2014, and upheld its decision to turn down the prosecution’s motion to withdraw the information.
The high court also “sustained in all aspects this court’s findings of the existence of probable cause against the accused,” the Fourth Division added.
The court said Baculo’s sworn statement and the pictures he provided to prove his allegations “are already enough to support the finding of probable cause against the accused.”
“(W)hether or not such evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction is another matter altogether. It is not the concern of the prosecution service or of the court at this time,” the court said.
“This case should proceed and should not be withdrawn at this time. When probable cause exists, it is the duty of the prosecution to proceed with the prosecution of the case,” it added.
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