Ex-Masbate mayor cleared of graft charge

By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki

Former Milagros Mayor Natividad Isabel Revil Magbalon of Masbate has been cleared by the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division of her graft charge involving the removal of the municipal social welfare and development officer back in 2013.

Magbalon was initially slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act because of the undue injury caused to Diosdidita Arcenas, then the chief of the municipal social welfare and development office.

She was placed on a floating status without due process, therefore being deprived of her monthly representation and transportation allowance (RATA) amounting to P8,160.

During the trial, the anti-graft court learned that Magbalon first invited Arcenas to her office to explain the accusations regarding the latter's involvement in partisan political activities, such as the campaign sorties of a certain Luz Bakunawa. However, Arcenas did not give any explanation.

Magbalon then designated Ruth Sia as the officer-in-charge of the MSWDO. For the court, this action does not establish the presence of manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

"To the mind of the Court, the accused merely performed her duties as the chief executive of the municipality," the decision read.

"It is a fundamental aphorism in law that no officer or employee in the Civil Service including members of the Armed Forces, shall engage directly or indirectly in any partisan political activity or take part in any election except to vote nor shall he use his official authority or influence to coerce the political activity of any other person or body," it added.

The fact that Arcenas was engaged in partisan political activities was further established by the testimonies of credible defense witnesses. Based on these, the Sandiganbayan ruled that the prosecution failed in producing evidence that would sufficiently establish Magbalon's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The anti-graft court ordered that Magbalon's hold departure order be lifted, and the cash bond she posted for her provisional liberty be released.

The 50-page decision was written by Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega with the concurrence of Chairperson Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Maryan Corpus-Mañalac.