Sandiganbayan acquits ex-Leyte mayor

Published March 23, 2019, 12:42 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki

The Sandiganbayan First Division has acquitted former Babatngon Mayor Charita Chan of Leyte of her graft charge in relation to the reportedly illegal extraction activities in the municipality back in 2014.


She was accused of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act alongside private individual Christopher Marquez Estrella, owner of CSE Builders.

The two of them reportedly acted with evident bad faith and conspired with one another when CSE Builders was allowed to conduct extraction of sand and gravel at the Salug Dongon River without an extraction permit from the Office of the Provincial Governor and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Chan further allowed the illegal extraction activities of CSE Builders despite the petition of affected barangays and the Committee Report of the Sangguniang Bayan to stop the operation.

Chan and Estrella filed their respective demurrers to evidence, which is an objection by one of the parties in an action, to the effect that the evidence which his adversary produced is insufficient in point of law.

After reviewing the facts and circumstances proven by the prosecution, the anti-graft court ruled that these were insufficient to support a moral conviction that Chan and Estrella violated the anti-graft law.

While Chan did request the Sangguniang Bayan to pass a resolution to permit the industrial sand and gravel application of Estrella’s company, that act alone cannot be considered as evident bad faith or manifest partiality. Notably, it is not uncommon for Chan to send requests to the SB.

As to Chan’s act of ignoring the petition of the residents, the anti-graft court ruled that there was “no evidence showing that accused Chan received a copy of the petition of the residents.”

“The petition itself was addressed to the SB, and witnesses…testified that the petition to said legislative body. Hence, proof is lacking that accused Chan endorsed or recommended the grant of Estrella’s permit despite knowing that it was operating illegally,” the resolution added.

It was also noteworthy for the court that Chan could not have stopped the operation of CSE Builders, since it was not within her power to do so. Only the provincial governor or the DENR exercises such authority.

“Failing to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence of the accused, the court is constrained to grant both the accused-movant’s separate demurrers to evidence,” it ruled.

The 21-page resolution was penned by Chairperson Efren De La Cruz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.