By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
Former Bien Unido Mayor Niño Rey Boniel of Bohol has been cleared by the Sandiganbayan First Division of his graft charge due to his denial to renew a cockpit arena’s permit.
Boniel was initially slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for causing undue injury to Virginia Baruffol when he denied, without basis, the permit to operate her business – Bien Unido Cockpit Arena (BUCA) back on January 15 to November 3, 2008.
Instead, Boniel granted the permit of Bien Unido Sports Complex Incorporated or Bien Unido Tourists Sports Complex Incorporated (BUTSCI) even though its incorporators are his relatives and the company was not yet registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
But during the trial, it was learned that the denial of BUCA’s permit was due to the fact that it was located just 200 meters away from three public buildings – the Philippine National Police (PNP) station, Atty. Felix Garcia Gymnasium, and the Poblacion Barangay Hall.
The complainant, Baruffol, insisted that the BUCA was established prior to the construction of the public buildings. She even said former Mayor Felix Garcia assured her not to worry because the BUCA came first before the public buildings.
But the court said in its decision that the “mere tolerance by the former local chief executives of BUCA’s operation does not place BUCA beyond the ambit of law.”
What’s more – BUCA did not meet the sanitation requirements of the municipality. Sanitary Inspector Versie Avenido and Municipal Health Officer Dr. Dennis Lua both testified that there is a ruined portion on the roof of the sanitary toilet, while the second toilet was already condemned. The source of the water for flushing was damaged, and so are some other parts of the building.
On the other hand, the anti-graft court did not find that Boniel acted with manifest partiality in granting the permit of BUTSCI.
“Prior to the grant of permit to BUTSCI, the municipality posted for two weeks in a newspaper of general circulation an invitation to the public to bid for the operation of a new cockpit arena. BUTSCI emerged as the lone bidder,” the decision stated.
Because of this, the municipality decided to extend the deadline for the application to bid and conduct another bidding. Still, no other bidders applied.
“While the Court agrees that BUTSCI was granted a permit by the municipality around seven months prior to its incorporation, the same cannot be considered as attended with evident bad faith, manifest partiality or gross inexcusable negligence,” the decision read.
Aside from Boniel, his co-accused Vice Mayor Petronilio Justiniane and Sangguniang Bayan members Patricio Avenido, Eduardo Gentapa, Mansueto Garcia, Alejo Boniel, Sotero Macua Jr., Rene Borenaga, Froilan Ramo and Rogelio Villarias were likewise acquitted.
The 39-page decision was written by Chairperson Efren De La Cruz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.
Boniel made the news back in 2017 for allegedly killing his wife, former Mayor Gisela Boniel. She was kidnapped on June 7, 2017; after which, she was brought to the sea where she was shot, put on a fishnet weighed down by a rock, then left to submerge. Up to this day, her remains have yet to be found.
Boniel was charged for kidnapping, serious illegal detention and physical injuries. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.