AFTER around seven years, members of the Cebu City Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) board can now heave a sigh of relief, following a Sandiganbayan decision promulgated yesterday dismissing a criminal case filed against them by a former employee.

The case, for supposed violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, was the remaining thorn on the officials’ side, said defense lawyer Julius Ceasar Entise.

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Entise said another criminal case and two administrative cases the officials faced in relation to the complaints of former ABC engineer Leah Rondez were already dismissed prior to the Jan. 6 Sandiganbayan decision.

Penned by Associate Justice Gregory Ong, the 36-page decision said not all four elements of the offense were present in the case, hence the acquittal of the 10 accused officials.

Accused

Entise represented Guadalupe Barangay Captain Eugenio Faelnar (ABC president), former Day-as barangay captain Michael Ocleasa Sr., former Lorega San Miguel barangay captain Fortunato Parawan, T. Padilla Barangay Captain Michael Ralota, former Luz barangay captain Nemesio Pagador Jr., former Inayawan barangay captain Licerio Jaca, and Sambag I Barangay Captain Jerry Guardo.

Pahina Central Barangay Captain Sisinio Andales represented himself and Pit-os Barangay Captain Nilo Tariman.

Former San Antonio barangay captain Daido Abcede Sr. was the fifth official Rondez sued.

The Sandiganbayan fourth division said that to warrant a conviction for corrupt practices, as alleged by Rondez, the accused should be public officers, and should have committed the act during the performance of their official duty.

They must have also acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence; and the act has caused undue injury to the government or to a private party.

Rondez, who was fired when Faelnar and company took over in 2002, filed the complaint for their refusal to reimburse the P4,300 worth of gasoline expenses that she incurred while working for the ABC during the term of Punta Princesa Barangay Captain Jose Navarro in 2001.

Refusal

The ABC officials refused to reimburse the amount, as recommended by their then legal counsel Raul Bitoon, because the expenses were incurred during the past administration, which had enough time to pay Rondez back.

The ABC also discovered an anomaly in the documents because the purchase request was dated January 2001, yet the duplicate was dated January 2002 and the actual purchase was for January to March 2001.

When the case reached the Sandiganbayan on Feb. 7, 2003, the fourth division ordered a 90-day preventive suspension on Faelnar and the other ABC officials.

In its decision, the Sandiganbayan said it cannot be established that the officials acted with evident bad faith or malice or manifest partiality.

And since conviction requires the presence of all four elements of the offense, the Sandiganbayan no longer discussed whether the denial of the claim resulted in any injury.

Disappointed

In an interview with radio dyHP, Rondez said that while the decision did not sit well with her, she accepted it and would no longer file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

“I was caught by surprise. Syempre, masilo ta ‘no. I was expecting to win,” she said.

“I can’t do anything about the court’s decision. Akong gihulat ang desisyon sa Ginoo kay hustisya ra man to sa tawo ba,” she said.

Rondez said she was just fighting for her principles, and would no longer want a conviction, because it would result in a jail term that would just earn her more enemies among the families of the ABC officials.