Sandigan clears Lipa City mayor in conflict of interest case
The Sandiganbayan has acquitted Lipa City Mayor Meynardo Sabili from his conflict of interest case, as prosecutors failed to establish the local official’s actual involvement in the business of his long-time partner and now-wife when the city entered into a block time agreement with her radio station.
In an 11-page resolution dated September 29, the graft court’s First Division granted Sabili’s demurrer to the evidence and lifted its suspension order issued only on September 8.
The court explained that for live-in partners, the prosecution could not simply presume Sabili had a direct or indirect interest in BPS Broadcasting & Media Services.
When the city entered into a year-long contract to air the radio program May Maaasahang Serbisyo in January 2012 for P360,000, Bernadette Palomares-Sabili was still legally married to another man.
This meant that the property regime under Article 148 of the Family Code cannot be applied to their case. Under the said regime, only properties acquired by both parties through their actual joint contribution are considered jointly owned.
“Without proof of actual contribution from either or both spouses, there can be no co-ownership under Article 148 of the Family Code,” the court explained.
The prosecution “focused solely on establishing that the accused were cohabiting prior to the execution of the contract.”
The court said there was no evidence of Sabili’s actual contribution to establish his co-ownership of BPS.
Although they represented themselves as married in registering the births of their children in 1980 and 1983, the court said it “cannot be construed as proof of their marriage,” since Bernadette’s marriage to Jose Bernardo Jr. was only declared void in 2012, and she married Sabili on September 28 that year.
In fact, the change in the relationship status led BPS to return the payments it received for the months of October to December 2012.
The resolution, penned by Associate Justice Efren de la Cruz and concurred in by Associate Justices Geraldine Faith A. Econg and Edgardo A. Caldona, suggested that in this case, mere cohabitation is not enough to prove conflict of interest. /kga
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