Ex-Lucena mayor acquitted of graft over bingo franchise approval
The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Lucena City Mayor Ramon Talaga Jr. of graft over his approval of a bingo gaming operator’s franchise allegedly out of gratitude for the help he got in surviving a recall election.
In a 16-page decision dated Oct. 6, the court’s Fourth Division said the Office of the Ombudsman failed to prove there was a conspiracy between Talaga and nine city councilors in enacting Ordinance No. 1963, which in June 2000 granted Jose Sy Bang a local franchise to operate his bingo business.
The court noted that complainant Raymundo Nazario of Elan Recreation, Inc.— which lost its bingo franchise after it was vetoed by Talaga – admitted that he “simply presumed that undue benefit was given to Sy Bang” due to the speed in the enactment of his franchise ordinance.
The prosecution failed to show that Talaga’s endorsement of Sy Bang’s request letter to the city council was irregular, or “outside of the usual course of his duties as City Mayor.” The court said the minutes of the Sangguniang Panlungsod’s deliberations showed it approved other financial matters endorsed by the mayor just as quickly.
The mayor and the councilors were also not shown to have “specifically favored Sy Bang to the exclusion, disfavor, or detriment of any other individual.” The court noted that there were no other applicants competing with him for the franchise, and Talaga was even noted to have vetoed the council’s use of the word “exclusive” to describe Sy Bang’s franchise.
Even though it was actually the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) that had the power to grant gaming franchises, the court found that no unwarranted benefit was given by the city to Sy Bang because he did obtain a franchise from the state corporation anyway.
“Thus, it was the PAGCOR franchise that allowed Sy Bang to operate his bingo outlet and not Lucena City Ordinance No. 1963. Otherwise stated, Ordinance No. 1963 conferred no unwarranted benefit or privilege to Sy Bang,” the court concluded.
Besides Talaga, also acquitted were then-councilors Godofredo Faller, Victor Paulo, Danilo Zaballero, Salome Dato, Simon Aldovino, Wilfredo Asilo, Philip Castillo, Aurora Garcia, and Romano Franco Talaga.
The court also took a swipe at the Ombudsman over the fact that Roderick Alcala, another councilor who approved the franchise ordinance, was not even charged alongside his colleagues.
“To a certain extent, this creates a negative impression on the manner by which the preliminary investigation was conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman and puts to doubt the: motive behind the filing of this case,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Bayani H. Jacinto and concurred in by Associate Justices Alex L. Quiroz and Reynaldo P. Cruz.
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