By Czarina Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Sixth Division has given due course to the appeal made by Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) Region XII Adjudicator Henry Magaway Gelacio to elevate his graft and breach and conduct conviction to the Supreme Court (SC) despite a blunder made by his lawyers.
He was earlier found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of his graft and breach of conduct charges stemming from the extortion of money and a whole tuna fish on five separate occasions from Aug. 14 to Nov. 19, 2007.
In exchange for the money and fish, Gelacio offered the issuance of a temporary restraining order and injunction order in a DARAB case.
Gelacio filed his notice of appeal on July 19, 2019 through registered mail, which the anti-graft court received on Aug. 9. But since the notice of appeal was not accompanied by any proof of payment of the necessary appellate docket fees and other lawful fees, it was denied in a resolution dated Sept. 4.
Gelacio then filed a manifestation and motion for reconsideration, arguing that he complied with the rules of procedure of the 2018 Revised Internal Rules of the Sandiganbayan.
He said he was mindful of the fees that must be paid within the 15-day reglementary period from the receipt of the court’s resolution dated May 24, so he paid the docket fees and other lawful fees to the SC on July 23 when he filed a motion for additional time to file petition for review on certiorari.
But after receipt of the Sept. 4 resolution of the court dismissing his notice of appeal, Gelacio said he sent his lawyer Jesus P. Olivar Jr. to the division clerk of court and asked him to pay the required docket fees. However, the payment was not accepted. The lawyer returned the following day on Sept. 16 and posted postal money order checks for P4,000.
His lawyers likewise begged the indulgence of the court for their mistake. Since they are new members of the bar, they said they had a wrong interpretation of the rules of court and mistakenly paid the docket fees to the SC and not the Sandiganbayan.
In its ruling, the anti-graft court admitted their arguments since the docket fees were timely filed. “After a careful reconsideration, taking into account the explanations offered by accused Gelacio’s counsels, the Court grants accused Gelacio’s motion for reconsideration,” the resolution read.
However, the court said that it does not find the explanations posited by Gelacio’s counsels to be “excusable” to relax the applications of the rules. In fact, the anti-graft court considered their actions “grossly negligent.”
But the court said it cannot allow Gelacio to be incarcerated without his conviction being reviewed by the SC due to the negligence of his counsel.
“This Court deems it appropriate to relax the technical rules of procedure in order to afford accused Gelacio the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his appeal before the High Court, rather than for this Court to deprive him of such and make him lose his liberty on procedural blunders which he had no direct hand in,” the resolution read.
The 17-page resolution was penned by Sixth Division Chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez with the concurrence of Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Kevin Narce Vivero.
Gelacio was earlier sentenced to suffer imprisonment for six years and one month as minimum to eight years as maximum for his graft charge, while he is facing imprisonment from one year and one day as minimum to a maximum of five years for his breach of conduct charge.
The complainants — Eduardito Garbo, Miguel Engagamao, Marisa Egagamao, Bebiano Egagamao, Zenona Egagamao, Saturnina Egagamao, Dominador Egagamao, Lucia Egagamao, Celso Palado Sr., Aniceto Mejala, Jonathan Villegas, Herminigilda Garbo, Shirley Glodove, and Norberto Malubay — said that they were forced to sell their farm animals, tools, and materials at very low prices just so they could cough up the money for Gelacio.
During the trial, Gelacio made a “sweeping self-serving denial” of the accusations against him, the court noted, but he did not categorically deny the accusations in the judicial affidavit dated March 4, 2018 and during the direct examination. At the same time, the court said denial in itself is “inherently weak” during a trial.
“We cannot overemphasize the need for honesty and integrity on the part of all those who are in the government service,” the decision stated.
“The Court takes this opportunity to remind every public official and employee that they are under obligation to perform the duties of their office honestly, faithfully, and to the best of their ability.”