BOGO City Treasurer Julio S. Ursonal Jr. has been suspended for 90 days by the Sandiganbayan based on a pending graft case involving alleged mishandling of government funds.
Associate Justice and Sixth Division chair Sarah Jane T. Fernandez penned the six-page resolution that overruled Ursonal’s objections citing the mandatory nature of suspension of a public official charged under RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act once validity of the information
has been established.
Associate Justices Karl B. Miranda and Kevin Narce B. Vivero concurred.
Ursonal was named co-accused of former Bogo mayor Celestino A. Martinez III in two graft charges over the alleged unlawful transfer to a private cooperative of a P20 million financial assistance meant for local for farmers.
Prosecutors said the funds were sourced from the Ginintuang Agrikulturang Makamasa program of the Department of Agriculture in 2007.
Also named co-defendants in the first graft case were municipal accountant Cresencio P. Verdida, municipal treasurer Rhett E. Minguez, and municipal budget officer Mary Lou B. Ursal.
Martinez and Ursonal were the only two accused in the second graft charge.
Based on audit findings, the sum was funneled into the Bogo Municipal Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative (BMEMPC) even if auditors said the money was earmarked for agricultural and livelihood loans to the municipality’s farmers and fishing families.
Ursonal challenged the suspension, claiming the prosecution evidence did not show that he signed on behalf of the local government but for the private cooperative.
He claimed it would be the height of injustice for the Sandiganbayan to suspend him from public office on an information belied by the prosecution’s own evidence.
He also invoked the ruling of the Ombudsman that he was innocent of any administrative liability relative to the 2007 transaction.
The Sandiganbayan held that it is not bound by any finding of the Ombudsman on an administrative proceeding.
“The criminal liability of an accused public officer is separate and distinct from his administrative liability, even if both cases may have arisen from the same or similar acts,” the anti-graft court declared.
It stressed that the Court does not have the discretion whether or not preventive suspension is required as the Supreme Court has already ruled that the provisions of RA 3019 is mandatory in nature.