Conviction of Iloilo mayor for graft affirmed

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    THE Sandiganbayan Special Sixth Division has affirmed the conviction of Dingle, Iloilo municipal mayor Rufino P. Palabrica III on two counts of graft for approving the business permit for his own pharmacy and signing the lease contract for a market stall that he is occupying.

    The 22-page resolution dated November 15, 2019 penned by Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero denied Palabrica’s motion for reconsideration for lack of merit, citing the defendant’s failure to raise new arguments.

    Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez, Karl B. Miranda, Michael Frederick L. Musngi, and Georgina D. Hidalgo concurred in Musngi’s ponencia denying the appeal.

    Musngi and Fernandez, however, reiterated their position that the accused should have been acquitted in the second graft charge on the technical ground that the issuance of a business permit is not considered a contract or transaction as defined under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

    In its July 19, 2019 decision, the anti-graft court declared Palabrica guilty of two counts of graft and sentenced him to six to eight years imprisonment for each case or a total of 12 to 16 years. Likewise, he was barred from holding any other government position in the future.

    Palabrica contested the ruling on several grounds, including the absence of allegation that he had unlawful financial or pecuniary interest and that he relied in good faith on an opinion from the Department of Interior and Local Government that he can issue a mayor’s permit without breaking the law as the said act was ministerial due to lack of any basis to reject the grant of such permit.

    He insisted that his acts as alleged in the information were not tainted with any corrupt or ill motives.

    The Sandiganbayan was not swayed, noting that Palabrica had previously challenged the validity of the information in both cases in 2016 but was overruled.

    Accused was reminded that he had an opportunity to raise the issue before the Supreme Court but he never did.

    “Therewithal, accused actively participated in the proceedings wherein he had ample opportunity to strategically present his defense and evidence. After everything is said and done, accused remains hell-bent on resurrecting this settled matter,” the court pointed out.

    At the same time, the court held that Palabrica is not excused from liability regardless of the fact that he was mistakenly guided by the DILG opinion on the issuance of mayor’s permit.

    It declared that as the local chief executive, he was expected to orient himself and to fully observe the statutory prohibitions that go with the position.