Sandigan junks graft charges vs Bacolod mayor, 8 others

THE Sandiganbayan dismissed the criminal charges filed against Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia and eight city executives in the procurement of furniture and fixtures for the Bacolod Government Center worth almost P50 million in 2008.

The Leonardia camp has yet to obtain an official copy of the dismissal order as of Tuesday night.

A GMA News online report on Tuesday stated that the case was promulgated on January 26 signed by Fourth Division chair Associate Justice Alex Quirox and was concurred by Associate Justices Reynaldo Cruz and Bayani Jacinto.

The court dismissed the charges against Leonardia and his co-respondents lawyer Goldwyn Nifras, Luzviminda Treyes, Nelson Sedillo Sr., Belly Aguillon, Aladino Agbones, Jaries Ebenizer Encabo, Melvin Recabar and Eduardo Ravena due to inordinate delay.

The respondents were charged with one count each for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The court ruled in favor of Leonardia’s motion to dismiss after Ombudsman investigators took more than eight years from the time the complaint was received by the local executive until the approval of the case’s joint resolution.

City Legal Officer Joselito Bayatan in a press statement said the criminal case was dismissed in consideration of the constitutional right of innocence, adding that the ground of inordinate delay encompassed such right.

“The dismissal, however, mentioned the issue of prejudicial question in connection with the earlier decision of the Court of Appeals also dismissing the administrative complaint in that the merits in the administrative case may be considered by the Sandiganbayan,” Bayatan said.

“This may also be a factor in considering further the constitutional innocence of the accused,” he added.

The Court of Appeals had earlier dismissed the administrative case of Leonardia and his co-respondents regarding the furniture case.

As to the criminal case, Leonardia had said that he personally welcomes the filing of the case at the Sandiganbayan so that he and his fellow co-accused can avail of all legal options to, once and for all, clear their names of these charges.

Bayatan said the facts in the administrative complaint are also the same as those in the criminal case.

“It was observed that the Ombudsman admits in its own resolution that there was no conspiracy and no evident bad faith in our handling of this procurement, and that all the furniture items were delivered. There was even no overprice,” he added.

He said the dismissal of both the criminal and administrative cases of the furniture complaint is a vindication and an answered prayer for the mayor and his supporters, and he can now move on with his daily tasks without being distracted by these cases.

“Likewise, the city official appealed to all public officials and politicians to concentrate on serving the people meanwhile. The elections are still far off. Instead of working for their personal ambitions and political agenda, the needs and the demands of our people should be everybody’s priority,” Bayatan said.

Councilor Caesar Distrito, an ally of Leonardia, said the ruling is not just the victory of Leonardia or the Grupo Progreso, but a triumph and victory of the development and peace in Bacolod.

“With this dismissal of the Sandiganbayan, this is a vindication on the part of the mayor. This is a vindication of the people of Bacolod that we can now expect the mayor to give his full time to the service of the people,” he said.

Distrito said the decision of the Sandiganbayan is correct in citing the inordinate delay, adding that the case will be considered “closed” since the administrative and criminal charges were already dismissed.
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