Cabanatuan councilor gets 8 yrs for cell site-for-a-fee scam

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    A FORMER councilor and the secretary of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) of Cabanatuan Ciity, Nueva Ecija are facing eight to 13 years imprisonment and fines amounting to P905,000 each after they were found guilty of extorting cash from a private firm applying for a permit to build cell sites for Globe Telecom Inc.

    In a 63-page decision promulgated last October 20, the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division found former city councilor Angelito D. Saclolo Jr. and SP secretary Alfredo G. Ortaleza guilty of direct bribery and violation of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

    In her ponencia, Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez sentenced the defendants to five to eight years for direct bribery and an additional three to five years for the second offence regarding violation of RA 6713. Associate Justices Karl B. Miranda and Kevin Narce B. Vivero concurred.

    The anti-graft court also imposed perpetual disqualification barring both accused from holding any other government posts in the future.

    On top of these, they were also instructed to surrender the P300,000 they received from the permit applicant to be forfeited by the court as “an instrument of the crime” and turned over of the Bureau of Treasury.

    Records showed Richworld Aire and Technologies Corp. applied for a permit with the Cabanatuan City Hall on January 20, 2013. The company is a service provider engaged in securing locational clearances, building permits and other pertinent documents for Globe Telecom for cellular towers in Barangays Bakero and Sapang.

    In separate meetings with Ortaleza and Saclolo on February 14, 2013, employees of Richworld were informed that there is a “kalakaran” or standard operating procedure (SOP) for processing such applications which entails payment of P220,000 per tower.

    The prosecution witness Linda Moya, chief operations officer of Richworld, testified that defendants even provided her a breakdown of how the cash will be partitioned in various “shares,” with the biggest chunk supposedly going to the city mayor while other “shares” would go to the City Planning Office, the Office of the Building Official, the Vice Mayor, and P10,000 for each member of the SP.

    Hoping to speed up the process, Richworld agreed to pay up but haggled to bring down the fee to just P150,000 per tower.

    The money was delivered to Ortaleza on April 10, 2013 and by April 19, the Sandiganbayan noted that all Sangguniang Panlungsod members have signed the resolution for an ordinance approving the cell site towers.

    However, while doing a follow through on its application, Richworld was informed by the City Planning and Development Office that such a resolution from the SP was not necessary for the approval of an application for site location.

    Realizing that it was duped, Richworld sent demand letters to Ortaleza and Saclolo’s offices but received no replies prompting it to file a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman.

    Declaring itself convinced by the straightforward testimony of prosecution witnesses, the Sandiganbayan found the defendants guilty of both charges.

    “Clearly, accused Saclolo and accused Ortaleza solicited, demanded and accepted P300,000 from Richworld through Ms. Moya, for the issuance of a resolution allowing Globe Telecoms to construct cellular towers in Cabanatuan City,” the court declared.