By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Second Division has found former Claveria Mayor Antonio P. Calingin of Misamis Oriental guilty of 15 counts of graft due to his involvement in the anomalous payments made for construction works in the Balay Ticala Housing Project of the municipality back in 1995 to 1996.
Calingin was convicted alongside former Municipal Accountant Estrellita Ballescas. Calingin was sentenced to a minimum of 90 years imprisonment to 120 years as maximum, with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
Meanwhile, Ballescas, who was found guilty of nine counts of graft, was sentenced to 54 years as minimum and 72 years as maximum. Private individual Renato Quiblas was convicted of two counts of graft and faces 12 years minimum and 16 years maximum imprisonment.
Calingin was ordered to pay P7.205 million, while he and Ballescas were held jointly liable to pay back the government P1.345 million.
Their three other co-accused – former municipal treasurer Lourdes Plantas, former assistant municipal treasurer Joaquin Dilag, and former municipal engineer Romeo Estrada have already passed away. As a result, the charges against them were dismissed.
To support the anomalous transactions, Calingin approved several vouchers and issued the checks. Ballescas also signed these documents, while Quiblat accepted payments.
Ballescas was found to have displayed gross inexcusable negligence equivalent to evident bad faith when she justified the payments and reimbursements without the proper paper trail.
“Without any other document establishing the basis for the supposed advance payment made and the claim for reimbursement, she should not have affixed her signature on the vouchers. This demonstrates her wanton and deliberate disregard of the demands of her duties as such Municipal Accountant,” the decision read.
For Calingin, the anti-graft court said he should not have made payment “in the first place for several irregularities may be found” in the transactions.
On May 1995, the accused facilitated the payment amounting to P4,500,000 to private individuals Andy Bejasa and Kim Tulio for various items of construction works, but actual accomplishments were only valued at P1,706,854.70.
Then on December 2, 1995, they made land management development expenses P1,500,000. In truth, no land management development expenses were actually spent.
The third charge was for the project management fee for DVF Construction on December 22, 2015, amounting to P750,000, although no services were actually rendered.
This was followed on January 19, 1996, with a P10,000 reimbursement for titling of land but such titling of land was not actually processed. On January 19, the accused paid P155,000 for the sinking fund, but no such amount was deposited.
Their next transaction took place on January 22 when they leased a road grader amounting to P131,075 from Musuan Peak Resources and Development Corporation without conducting public bidding.
On February 7, they paid P43,428 for surveying services even though no services were actually made, and they also made P200,000 reimbursement for land management development expenses when no such expenses were really made.
They made another reimbursement for land management development expenses on February 20 when none were made. Then on March 1996, they once again leased a road grader amounting to P386,484 from PSB Enterprises Inc. without public bidding.
On April 2, they paid P13,574.60 for surveying services and P380,454.55 for the Project Management Fee of Karee and Company. But in truth, no services were rendered.
Calingin also endorsed that the payment for materials purchased from Ristian Hardware worth P450,321.63 be deposited under his personal PNB account in Lim Ket Kai Branch in Cagayan de Oro City.
This is for his violation of Section 3(h) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The rest of his charges are for violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019.
On June 4, they made a payment worth P30,000 for titling of land when no titling was made, and finally on July 9, they purchased a water tank fiber glass worth P100,000 from Saver’s Plaza Auto Parts without the conduct of public bidding.
Because the prosecution managed to discharge its burden of proving all the elements of graft, the anti-graft court said “a moral certainty” is achieved to find them guilty for the acts they committed.
“Without their respective signatures on the vouchers, the unlawful disbursements could not have been made. When they signed the vouchers, they made it appear that the disbursements were necessary, lawful and sufficiently supported with documents, when, in fact, they were not,” the court ruled.
“Since they both contributed to attain the end goal, it can be concluded that their acts, taken collectively, satisfactorily prove the existence of conspiracy among them,” it added.
The 79-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with the concurrence of Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr. and Michael Frederick Musngi.