By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The Sandiganbayan Third Division has found former San Dionisio Mayor Peter Paul King Lopez of Iloilo guilty of nepotism after it was found that he appointed his own son, Carlos Paul Lopez, as Acting Licensing Officer for the municipality back in 2015.
Lopez was convicted of nepotism, which is a violation of Section 79 of R.A. 7160, in relation to Sections 59 and 67 of Executive Order 292.
He was sentenced to pay a fine of P1,000 with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.
During his arraignment on January 12, 2018, Lopez refused to enter any plea. As a result, it was the anti-graft court that entered a not guilty plea for him. He later filed a demurrer to evidence on November 13, 2018 without leave of court.
A demurrer to evidence is a motion arguing that the prosecution’s evidence is insufficient to reach a guilty verdict. If granted, then the case would be dismissed.
However, filing a demurrer to evidence without the court’s permission means that the accused is waiving his or her right to present evidence, so the court will rule based solely on the prosecution’s evidence.
In this case, Lopez filed a demurrer without leave of court. Lopez insisted that the evidence on record is “grossly insufficient” to prove his guilt, since the prosecution failed to prove that he appointed a relative.
He said none of the prosecution witnesses testified that he issued an appointment to Carlos, and the prosecution likewise failed to prove that the designation of Carlos allowed him to exercise the functions of a licensing officer.
At the same time, Lopez said all of the Assessment documents were merely “prepared by” Carlos without any proof that he signed or approved these licenses.
But contrary to Lopez’s assertions, the anti-graft court ruled that the prosecution was successful in proving all of the elements of the crime of nepotism. In its decision, the court said it was proven that Carlos was, indeed, the son of Lopez.
Lopez tried to distinguish his liability from nepotism by saying that Carlos’s position in government was a mere “designation” and not an “appointment,” and Carlos did not receive any salary or benefits from his designation.
However, this was of no matter to the court. “We note the irrelevancy of whether the appointee received his salary or benefits or function as such, since the gravamen of the offense of nepotism is the appointment or designation of a relative within the prescribed level of consanguinity or affinity,” the decision read.
The 17-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Ronald Moreno.
Records obtained by the Ombudsman showed that Carlos Lopez was first appointed to a co-terminus appointment as Executive Assistant, but on January 5, 2015, his father issued an executive order designating him as Acting Licensing Officer, a career position in the Civil Service.
In its Resolution, the Ombudsman said that “there is no dispute that respondent and Carlos are related to each other and the respondent designated Carlos to the position of Acting Licensing Officer of the municipality. Thus, it clearly constitutes the offense charged.”
Even though Carlos was only designated as Acting Licensing Officer, the Ombudsman said the rule on nepotism stresses that no distinction be made between appointment and designation.
Section 79 of R.A. 7160, also known as the Local Government Code, states that no person shall be appointed in the career service of the local government if he is related within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to the appointing or recommending authority.
Section 49 of Presidential Decree 807 (Civil Service Decree of the Philippines) also says that all appointments in the government made in favor of a relative of the appointing authority are prohibited.
Any acts in violation of the said law shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand pesos or by imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both depending upon the discretion of the court.