By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Second Division has acquitted Guagua Mayor Dante Datu Torres of his technical malversation charge involving the P2.76 million rehabilitation of Manuel P. Santiago Park.
He was initially charged with violating Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code for disbursing P2.76 million on July 1, 2014 for the payment of expenses for the upgrade and rehabilitation of the said park, even though a municipal ordinance was issued stating that the money was intended for the rehabilitation of Aurelio Tolentino Frontage Area and the purchase of a refrigerator van and some heavy equipment.
Article 220 of the law states that “any public officer who shall apply any public fund or property under his administration to any public use other than for which such fund or property were appropriated by law or ordinance shall suffer the penalty of prision correctional in its minimum period or a fine ranging from one-half to the total of the sum misapplied, if by reason of such misapplication, any damages or embarrassment shall have resulted to the public service. In either case, the offender shall also suffer the penalty of temporary special disqualification.”
During the trial, the prosecution presented Local Development Council (LDC) Resolution No. 02-S-2013, which contained the original allocation subject of the case. The prosecution insisted that the resolution should be considered an ordinance because the LDC has the authority to prepare the program of expenditure covered by the 20 percent development fund of the municipality.
However, the anti-graft court said the prosecution failed to prove that the Local Expenditure Program which contains the LDC Resolution is an appropriation law or ordinance as contemplated by Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code.
The defense, on the other hand, asserted that Ordinance No. 16-S-2013 is the law or ordinance that contained the purpose of the fund. Relying on this, the fund from which the alleged misuse did not contain a specific purpose for which the fund was to be used.
The anti-graft court ruled in favor of the defense, saying that the prosecution failed to prove a vital element of the crime.
“In the case at bar, since there is clearly no ordinance specifying the particular use of the subject fund, the accused could not be held liable for the crime of illegal use of public funds,” the decision read.
The court said the lack of ordinance or law which specifically appropriates the subject fund for the projects or the rehabilitation of the park cannot lead to a finding that accused Torres willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously caused the disbursement of the P2.76 million budget that would make him liable under the law.
The 20-page decision was written by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi with the concurrence of Second Division Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna.