Sandiganbayan affirms conviction of ex-Western Samar Mayor, reduces civil liabilities

Published July 8, 2019, 3:01 PM

by Martin Sadongdong & Antonio Colina

By Czarina Ong Ki 

The Sandiganbayan First Division has affirmed its decision convicting 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.

Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)
Sandiganbayan (MANILA BULLETIN)

However, the anti-graft court changed its mind about Abarratigue’s civil liability and decided to reduce the amount he has to pay.

Because of his conviction, Abarratigue was sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of six years and one month as 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 totalled to P556,196.

In his motion for reconsideration, Abarratigue argued that the Commission on Audit (COA) has primary jurisdiction over money claims. Even assuming that he is held liable for withholding of the salaries, the former mayor said the money is treated as a trust fund. As a result, he should not be made personally liable for it.

He appealed to the court to reverse his conviction as well, saying that he informed the private complainants through memorandum orders that they were dropped from the rolls. This act of informing the complainants, he said, proves good faith on his part.

Abarratigue also said that he made an effort to bring development to the municipality by making the government services available to the constituents.

The anti-graft court, for its part, found his motion for reconsideration “partly meritorious.”

In an eight-page resolution, the court said it failed to see how Abarratigue can claim good faith on account of his having issued the memorandum to private complainants.

“The accused conveniently left out the crucial detail that while the memorandum orders were indeed issued by him…such act reeks of evident bad faith as it is in total disregard of the time that the private complainants have worked prior to receiving the notice of dropping them from the rolls, especially since they are entitled to the salaries and allowances corresponding to the days they have worked,” the resolution read.

The only thing that the court decided to rule in favor to Abarratigue was to decrease his civil liability from P556,196 to just P239,052.09.

To recall, Abarratigue was acquitted of his other three graft charges due to the failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He was initially ordered to pay back the private complainants their private salaries totalling to P317,143.91, but the court ruled this time that “the municipality should be the one to release the unpaid salaries” of the complainants.

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.

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