By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The Sandiganbayan First Division has convicted former Hinabangan Mayor Alejandro Abarratigue of Western Samar of his five graft charges due to the irregular reassignments of municipal employees back in 2009 to 2010.
He was sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of six years and one month as a minimum up to 10 years as maximum for each of the five graft charges. Abarratigue was also directed to pay back the private complainants their unpaid salaries with an interest of six percent per annum, which totaled to P556,196.
On the other hand, Abarratigue was acquitted of his other three graft charges due to the failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. However, he was still ordered to pay back the private complainants their private salaries totaling to P317,143.91.
Abarratigue’s charges stemmed from the unlawful reassignment of several municipal employees holding permanent positions, namely Local Legislative Staff Employee II Lydia Tono, Fe Grande, Jocelyn Ventura; Park Attendant III Renato Abaigar and Miguel Aban Jr.; Agricultural Technologist Jovita Mabansag; and Day Care Workers Maribeth Abina, Marita Abarracoso and Gloria Tacad.
The reassignment caused these individuals “hardship and additional financial burden” because of the distance of the sub-offices and barangays where their new assignments are. Their salaries and allowances were also withheld until they were eventually separated from service.
In a 52-page ruling, the anti-graft court said that the prosecution was successful in proving all of the elements of graft in five of the charges.
The reassignment of the municipal employees to utility work was not discussed by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), so there is no definitive ruling as to whether it was validly or invalidly made by accused Abarratigue.
But the Court said it can still make a determination if the acts of the accused were attended with evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. In this case, it rules in the affirmative.
“Taken together, the acts of accused Abarratigue were committed to harass private complainants and have brought mental and financial hardship upon them. It is beyond reasonable acts constitute bad faith,” the decision read.
Abarratigue made it hard for the complainants to sign their attendance in the daily logbook since his designated logbook supervisor Charita Abaigar was not always present in the sub-office.
To compensate for her absence, the complainants made their own logbook. But Abarratigue still refused to sign their daily time records (DTRs). With their DTRs unsigned, they were considered to have incurred absences without leave.
The complainants, who were from permanent appointments as Legislative Staff Employees and Park Attendants, were relegated to utility work. Abarratigue argued that cleaning or maintenance was on top of the employees’ usual functions, but the Court was not persuaded.
“While it was not shown that there was a diminution or reduction in rank or of salary on the part of private complainants, the reassignment was from a position of dignity to a more menial job,” the decision read.
The complainants also said that the sub-office lacks the basic necessities of a decent office, and the prosecution was successful in proving that it was in a “dismal state.”
The 52-page decision was written by Chairperson Efren De La Cruz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.