Sandigan acquits ex-Iligan City mayor, 11 others of graft charges on land leases


The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Iligan City mayor Lawrence Lluch Cruz and 11 members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) of their graft charges in the alleged anomalous leases of land by the city government in 2004, 2008, and 2013.

Cruz was acquitted of three counts of violations of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, while former Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) members Ruderic C. Marzo, Providencio A. Abragan Jr., Moises G. Dalisay Jr., Ariel P. Anghay, and Bayani C. Areola were cleared in two counts each.

Former SP members Riza Jane P. Magaro, Jose L. Zalsos, Frederick W. Siao, Marlene L. Young, Michelle E. Sweet-Booc, and Roy L. Openiano were each acquitted of one graft charge.

In the first case, they were charged with graft in the contract with Kiwalan Lumber Company (KLC) on Aug. 21, 2004 on the lease of seven adjoining parcels of land with an aggregate area of 20,000 square meters in Tubod, Iligan City for a period of nine years at the rental rate of P3 per square meter. However, the prosecution said that the contract was unduly favorable to KLC and grossly disadvantageous to the government.

In the second case, they were accused of giving unwarranted benefits to Salvatori Development Corporation (SDC) when they signed a contract of lease for 20,000 square meters of land from June to December 2008 and agreed to a rental rate of P9 per square meter for the first 10,000 square meters and P6.60 for the second 10,000 square meters for a period of four years.

In the third case, another contract of lease was entered into with SDC for another 20,000 square meters of land from February to March 2013. The contract agreed to the rental rate of P13.17 per square meter for the first 10,000 square meters and P8.78 for the next 10,000 square meters.

Just like in the first transaction, the prosecution said it was "unduly favorable" to SDC and grossly disadvantageous to the local government.

In acquitting the former city officials, the Sandiganbayan said the transactions "were products of prudent and careful review, studies and deliberations on the possible solutions to the city's problem of traffic congestion" despite the allegation of the prosecution that the SP of Iligan City was "merely acquiescence" to the wishes of Cruz.

The court also said that the prosecution failed to present any evidence that the Commission on Audit (COA) issued any Audit Observation Memorandum, Notice of Disallowance, or Special Audit Report on the subject transactions.

The court also noted that the prosecution was unable to prove that there was preference or advantage given to KLC or SDC.

Associate Justice Bernelito R. Fernandez wrote the 91-page decision with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Ronald Moreno.

TAGS: #Sandiganbayan #Iligan City