By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
Former General Mariano Alvarez (GMA) Mayor Leonisa Joana “Ona” Basa Virata of Cavite has been cleared by the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division of her graft charge due to the failure of the prosecution to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
She was earlier slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for giving unwarranted benefit to Rasul Ambol, a bazaar operator, by granting him a temporary business permit and allowing him to use a closed portion of Congressional Road in GMA, Cavite.
Because of this, he was able to use this portion of the road for commercial and business purposes since he put up stalls for his bazaar operations.
The prosecution stressed that Virata was at fault for allowing the roads’ closure since this violates Section 21 of the Local Government Code of 1991.
However, the anti-graft court ruled that Virata did not act with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence in the discharge of her functions.
Virata issued Executive Order No. 23 s. of 2012 as part of the municipality’s traffic control efforts, and the roads were temporarily re-routed for the Christmas season.
“It is consistent with her duty to ease the transport difficulties normally associated with the holiday season experienced by the riding public as well as the transport and business sectors of the municipality,” the court ruled.
The Sandiganbayan was also not swayed that Virata gave anyone unwarranted benefits or advantage in the discharge of her functions since there is no direct evidence connecting her to Ambol.
While the prosecution took great pains to make their connection, the court said that they failed to establish how she “knew Ambok or if she previously dealt or transacted with him, or what she would gain or why she would give him a favor or benefit at the risk of jeopardizing her position.”
It is worth noting for the court that the proceeds of Virata’s transaction with Ambol all went to the account of the municipality, as admitted by both the prosecution and defense in their Joint Stipulation of Facts and Issue.
“Verily, based on our foregoing disquisitions, the prosecution in this case failed to meet the required quantum of evidence to ascribe criminal liability on the part of accused Virata,” the decision read.
The 17-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo with the concurrence of Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses.