By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has convicted Sipalay City, Negros Occidental Vice Mayor Oscar Montilla, Jr. for graft due to his willful ignorance of the suspension of several local officials back in 2008.
Montilla was sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for an indeterminate period of six years and one month as minimum to eight years as maximum. He is also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
In its ruling, the anti-graft court noted how Montilla was instructed by the Office of the Ombudsman three times to implement the suspension orders against the local officials – Evangeline A. Seneres, Eva A. Sabusap, Fernando R. Balhin, Noel Villanueva, and Renato Manilla.
Montilla was accused of turning a blind eye towards the Ombudsman’s suspension order against them under case no. OMB-V-A-04-0189-D for negligence by “delaying for years without legal basis the implementation of said suspension despite repeated directives from the office of the Ombudsman – Visayas,” the charge sheet against him read.
Montilla never denied the delay in the implementation of the suspension. However, he averred that he did not act with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.
To prove his good faith in postponing the suspension, Montilla reasoned that he was merely relying on the recommendation of the City Legal Counsel, since he was unfamiliar with the technicalities involved in the case.
However, the anti-graft court was not persuaded. “We find that Montilla exhibited gross negligence in delaying the implementation of the Ombudsman’s suspension order,” the decision read.
Montilla was fully aware that the City Legal Counsel, Atty. Elmer Balbin, was also the lawyer of the municipal employees. Out of all the people he could have consulted, the anti-graft court said he chose to seek advice from the lawyer of the very same persons the Ombudsman was seeking to suspend.
“Evidently, this degree of carelessness warrants a conviction under Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019,” the anti-graft court stressed.
The 24-page decision was written by Chairperson Alex Quiroz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Bayani Jacinto.