The Sandiganbayan has acquitted Mayor Tomas Bongalonta Jr. of Pili, Camarines Sur and two other co-accused of their criminal charges which arose from the stoppage of work by the town’s water concessionaire in 2011.
Also acquitted in a decision written by Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero were Edilberto V. Bongon, head of Pili Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (PIPSEMO), and Police Cpl. Joel B. Berja.
They were charged with violation of Section 8 (c) in relation to Section 11 of Republic Act No. 8041, the National Water Crisis Act of 1995, and Article 286 of the Revised Penal Code on grave coercion.
The criminal complaint filed against them stated that they and 16 unidentified persons forcibly prevented the urgent repair and installation of water pipelines by the workers of the Metropolitan Naga Water District (MNWD), the town’s water supplier.
MNWD complained that while it has a legal easement for the flow of water from its own source, Bongalonta and his co-accused carted away equipment and tools worth P358,830.
In his defense, Bongalonta said that he merely carried out his lawful duty when he ordered the temporary cessation of the excavation works and pipe-laying activities of the MNWD because there was no proper coordination with the local government unit, and the MNWD did not secure a building permit from the local building official.
In acquitting the mayor and his co-accused, the Sandiganbayan said their acts were justified because the mayor acted within his legal authority.
The anti-graft court noted that Bongalonta even gave the MNWD several opportunities to submit the requested detailed engineering plans and specifications of the rehabilitation and pipe-laying project.
But, the court said, MNWD insisted that the layout plan it submitted was already sufficient and immediately proceeded to undertake the project without securing the permit from the local government.
At the same time, the court said Bongalonta’s implementation of a cease-and-desist order was not excessive since there was no aggression or hostility from either party during the March 1, 2011 incident.
“The prosecution likewise failed to ascribe any malice, bad faith, or ill motive on the part of accused Mayor Bongalonta in issuing the directive,” the decision stated.
Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez and Karl B. Miranda concurred in the decision.