Ex-Baliwag mayor cleared of graft

Published March 19, 2019, 11:45 AM

by Patrick Garcia

By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki

Former Baliwag Mayor Romeo M. Estrella has been cleared by the Sandiganbayan Second Division of his two graft charges after his demurrer to evidence was granted.


Estrella has been slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) and (h) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for reportedly giving his relatives – wife Sonia Viceo Estrella and sister-in-law Renita Viceo Domingo – undue advantage by approving their contracts of lease for market stalls from February 18 to March 15, 2013.

Estrella was accused of signing and approving three contracts of lease for Market Stalls No. 1, 2 and 3 at Block 3 of the Baliwag Shopping Complex in favor of Domingo, who in turn allowed Estrella’s wife to use the stalls.

Section 3(e) is for public officials that have caused undue injury to any party, including the government, by giving undue advantage to others while in the discharge of official functions. On the other hand, Section 3(h) penalizes officials for having direct or indirect financial or pecuniary interest in any business with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity.

The former mayor filed his demurrer to evidence, which is an act questioning the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence to render a guilty verdict. After carefully reviewing all the documents, the anti-graft court ruled to grant it.

The prosecution’s evidence took a hit after they failed to present the legal custodian of the Pagkakaloob ng Puesto Fijo sa Baliwag Shopping Complex, which was purportedly signed by Estrella.

Without the legal custodian, the court said “the same cannot be given weight.” At the same time, the complainant did not appear in court to attest to the authenticity of the document.

“It bears to emphasize that aside from the said contracts, no other evidence, documentary or testimonial, was likewise presented to show that accused Romeo had a hand in the processing of its award to accused Domingo to show his manifest partiality,” the resolution read.

The prosecution also relied on the Pagkakaloob ng Puesto Fijo sa Baliwag Shopping Complex to prove Estrella’s pecuniary interest in the transaction. But without the legal custodian and the complainant, the court said it cannot be “accorded probative value.”

“Nevertheless, it is important to note that kinship alone is not conclusive proof of such pecuniary interest,” the resolution stated.

In this case, the court said the prosecution only presumed the pecuniary interest of Estrella because of his relationship with his wife and sister-in-law. The prosecution still failed to show how he is connected with R&S Pawnshop or how his intervention led to the acquisition of any financial interest or benefit.

The 17-page resolution was penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi with the concurrence of Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna.