By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has affirmed its decision to convict Sipalay City, Negros Occidental Vice Mayor Oscar Montilla, Jr. of his graft charge due to his willful ignorance of the suspension of several local officials back in 2008.
On October 11, 2019, Montilla was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and was sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for a period of six years and one month as minimum to eight years as maximum. He was also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
His conviction stemmed from his refusal to implement the Ombudsman’s suspension order against Evangeline A. Seneres, Eva A. Sabusap, Fernando R. Balhin, Noel Villanueva, and Renato Manilla under case no. OMB-V-A-04-0189-D for negligence.
In his motion for reconsideration, Montilla argued that he is not guilty of gross inexcusable negligence because the delay in the implementation of the Ombudsman’s suspension order was due to his honest reliance on the advice given to him by the City Legal Officer, Atty. Elmer Balbin.
Since he is not a lawyer, Montilla said that he was constrained to rely on the advice of Atty. Balbin. At the same time, Montilla said the letters sent to him by Assistant Ombudsman Virginia Palanca-Santiago did not mention that the suspension order was immediately executory. As a result, he believed Atty. Balbin’s advice that the same cannot be implemented because a motion for reconsideration has been filed.
Montilla added that he immediately implemented the suspension after he was informed by Assistant Ombudsman Santiago that the suspension orders cannot be held off even after a motion for reconsideration was filed.
However, the anti-graft court refused to be swayed by Montilla. “In ruling that Montilla is guilty of the same, the Court again wishes to emphasize that the latter had readily accepted the erroneous advice of Atty. Balbin about the implementation of the Ombudsman’s suspension order despite his knowledge that the persons subject of the same were also being represented by Atty. Balbin,” the resolution read.
The court stressed that it was improper for Montilla to rely solely on the advice of the City Legal Officer regarding this matter, and his refusal to immediately act on the suspension order showed his “utter indifference to the consequences of his actions.”
“The Court thus finds and so rules that Montilla exhibited gross inexcusable negligence in delaying the implementation of the suspension order against the Sipalay employees,” the resolution stated.
The six-page resolution was written by Fourth Division Chairperson Alex Quiroz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Bayani Jacinto.