THE Sandiganbayan convicted a former city mayor in South Cotabato who was found guilty of graft for hiring a private lawyer during a public transaction.

Former Koronadal City mayor Fernando Miguel, father of incumbent Mayor Peter Miguel, was sentenced to imprisonment, ranging from six years and one month to eight years, by the anti-graft court.

In a 34-page decision penned by Justice Oscar Herrera Jr., the Sandiganbayan ruled that the elder Miguel acted "with evident bad faith and manifest partiality when he illegally engaged" with a private lawyer "to render legal services to the City of Koronadal in connection with the notarization of the deed of sale."

The Office of the Ombudsman prosecutors found probable cause to charge Miguel for violation of Section 3e of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In a statement published Monday, June 8, on Ombudsman's website, Miguel was reported to hire the services of private lawyer Joffrey Montefrio for the notarization of the deed of sale of a real property where the new City Hall building now stands.

Monteferio sent a statement of billing back in December 2003, charging the local government of P419,000 as notarial fees, which were paid in full by March 2004.

Based on the documents from the Commission on Audit (COA), presented by the Ombudsman Prosecutors, "the payment of notarial fees was irregular and violative of COA Circular 98-002, which prohibits a government entity from hiring private lawyers except under extraordinary or exceptional circumstances and subject to the written conformity of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel."

The Ombudsman prosecutors also presented witnesses who attested that the services of the Provincial Legal Office were available to notarize the documents for free.

"Having been city mayor for many years already, prior to the purchase of the Plomillo property by the City of Koronadal, accused Miguel knew or ought to have known that the legal services of the Provincial Legal Office can be solicited and availed of for free," Sandiganbayan explained.

"The action of accused Miguel undoubtedly caused undue injury to the government particularly the City of Koronadal, which lost the amount of P419,000 paid to Atty. Montefrio, and thereby gave unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to the latter who is a private party," the anti-graft court added.

City treasurer Eufrosino Inamarga and city accountant Imelda Tamayo, who were also named in the case, were acquitted due to insufficiency of evidence. (KGL)