Sandiganbayan denies plea bargain of ex-Negros Occidental officials

Published October 6, 2020, 12:17 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Sandiganbayan Third Division has denied the motion of five former Sipalay City officials to plead guilty to the lesser offense of breach of conduct instead of graft because they could not come to a mutual agreement with the prosecution.

City Treasurer Renato Pido Manilla, City Budget Officer Fernando Rivera Balbin, City Engineer Porferio Calderon Jr., City General Services Officer Elizer Rivera Balbin, and Executive Assistant Alfredo Gulmatico Lim were initially slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

On February 29, 2008, the accused awarded the renewal of contract of lease for the rehabilitation and graveling of dike and various farm-to-market roads to D.K. Jocson Construction despite several irregularities.

This award was done despite the absence of prior authority from the city council to enter into such contract of lease, as well as the conduct of public bidding. At the same time, the local officials decided to award the contract to D.K. Jocson despite its failure to post or file its performance bond.

On August 31, the accused filed a Motion for Leave to Plead Guilty to Lesser Offense and manifested that they want to enter a guilty plea to the offense of Section 7(a) of R.A. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

They claimed that they only entered a plea of not guilty to graft because they “honestly believed that they have complied with all the requirements of the law in procuring the services of D.K. Jocson for the rentals of heavy equipment and trucks.” They added that the city of Sipalay did not suffer from any financial losses.

However, the prosecution said in its comment that the anti-graft court should deny their motion because the more appropriate lesser offense should be Paragraph 1 Article 213 of the Revised Penal Code, or Frauds Against the Public Treasury.

Since mutual agreement between the defense and the prosecution is necessary in obtaining a plea bargain, the anti-graft court ruled to deny the accused’s motion.

“Taking into account all the foregoing considerations, coupled with the prosecutor’s refusal to give its consent to the offer to plea bargain, the denial of the present motion is in order,” the resolution read.

The prosecution actually made a counter-proposal for the accused to plead guilty to Frauds Against the Public Treasury. However, this was refused by their counsel.

The anti-graft court stressed that their denial of the motion does not mean that they are favoring the prosecution, since the latter still has to overcome the burden of proving that the accused are guilty of graft beyond reasonable doubt.

The eight-page resolution was written by Associate Justice Ronald Moreno with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez.