By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
Former Alfonso Castañeda, Nueva Vizcaya Municipal Engineer Romeo Beltran has been convicted by the Sandiganbayan Second Division of his graft and falsification charges involving the anomalous P10 million construction of the Batu-Abuyo farm-to-market road in 2002.
Beltran was sentenced to suffer indeterminate imprisonment of six years and one month as minimum to eight years as maximum for his graft charge, as well as two years and four months as minimum and eight years and one day as maximum for his falsification charge. He is perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
The charges for violations of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code or Falsification of Public Funds, was slapped against Beltran as well as former mayor Alfredo Castillo Jr., who remains at large, and private individual Danilo Sarmiento, attorney-in-fact of KAICO 25 Realty Development Corporation.
Sarmiento has been acquitted of the charges due to the failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The charges stemmed from the payment of P10 million to KAICO from June 2 to Aug. 31, 2002 for the construction of the Batu-Abuyo farm-to-market road in Barangay Lublub, Alfonso Castañeda. The payment was made despite the fact that only 3.87 percent of the road was accomplished. As a result, undue injury was caused to the government in the amount of P9.622 million.
During the trial, Beltran admitted that he was the one monitoring the physical progress of the project. He refuted the audit made by the Commission on Audit (COA) by offering in evidence the Report of Committee of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) by Provincial Director Luis Danao. In it, the project was deemed one hundred percent completed.
The COA, on the other hand, said in its report that there was only a volume of 6,000 cubic meters of earthworks. This was in contrast to the 50,000 cubic meters per the Program of Works submitted.
Because of this disparity, a review of the inspection report was made. The anti-graft court said in its ruling that the road is indeed far from one hundred percent complete.
Beltran tried to escape liability by saying he did not have any participation in the payment for the said project, since he was just the one preparing the progress billing up to the final physical accomplishment report furnishing the contractor and the municipal mayor.
However, the court said it was his name and signature that appeared on the payment to KAICO. “This Court has already ruled that all the elements of the offense charged against accused Beltran had been proven beyond reasonable doubt,” the decision read.
No civil liability is adjudged against Beltran and Sarmiento. The case against Castillo Jr. has been ordered archived.
The 33-page decision was written by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with the concurrence of Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi.