Ex-Cavite mayor gets 12 to 20 years for graft over land grab
The Sandiganbayan has convicted former Amadeo, Cavite, Mayor Albert Ambagan Jr. of unlawfully ordering construction on the residential lots of two private persons in 2008.
Ambagan drew two prison terms totaling at least 12 years to a maximum of 20 years after the antigraft court’s Special Fourth Division found him guilty of violating Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Prosecutors accused Ambagan of causing undue injury to Calixto Lumandas and the heirs of Simplicio Lumandas, when he ordered the development project of Balite Falls to begin without the landowners’ consent in Feb. 28, 2008.
Ambagan’s men were said to have demolished the houses and leveled the land despite the lack of proper expropriation proceedings. In his defense, the mayor said it was a project of the Philippine Tourism Authority and not the municipal government.
But the court in its 24-page decision agreed the Lumandases were “deprived of their right to possess, enjoy or even dispose of their property” due to Ambagan’s actions.
It said the ownership of the project “has no bearing” on the issue because the municipal government was the one tasked to supervise it.
Ambagan’s “active participation” in the project was also established by his own defense witnesses. Then-councilors Donn Clarence Bayot and Joel Iyaya respectively said the mayor administered the resort project and the municipal government operated the facility.
Iyaya even tried to defend the lack of expropriation proceedings by saying the government meant to enter into a joint venture agreement with the landowners, who received no payment for backing out of negotiations.
Still, the court held Ambagan in bad faith for pursuing the project without the owners’ consent. It said he knew that neither the town nor the PTA possessed any written consent to use the land.
“It is a basic principle that the owner of the property has the right to enjoy the same,” read the decision. “For a government entity to take such property, there must be an expropriation, purchase or any other form of agreement, consent or even tolerance from the owner.”
Although a defense witness said he overheard the wife of Simplicio Lumandas agreeing to the project “para kumita at gumanda ang lugar (so the area would profit and become beautiful),” Ambagan’s camp failed to show any document proving consent.
Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg penned the decision, with the concurrence of Justices Alex L. Quiroz and Reynaldo P. Cruz.
Ambagan’s new conviction comes 18 months after the Supreme Court in October 2015 acquitted him of homicide for the July 2004 killing of Senior Police Officer II Reynaldo Santos and a companion.
This reversed the Sandiganbayan First Division’s June 2012 verdict sentencing him to 12 to 24 years’ imprisonment for allegedly commanding his men to shoot after Santos apprehended their group for carrying firearms. CBB/rga
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