WHEN former Tago, Surigao del Sur mayor Rogelio Pimentel loaded 286 bags of cement and 280 ten-millimeter steel bars into a truck to be brought to his private resort, he thought he was doing his constituents a public service since the construction materials have sustained damage from rising floodwaters.
Little did he know that his actions would get him charged in court and earn him eight years of jail sentence even if he only acceded to the request of Unaban Barangay chairman Herminigildo Reyes, who was named his co-accused.
In a 25-page decision issued last October 4, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division convicted both public officials of one count each of graft and malversation of public property, noting that the former mayor used the construction materials for his personal purposes.
Two justices voted to acquit the defendants but the majority of three justices in the Special Division of Five that voted to convict prevailed.
Associate Justice Alex L. Quiroz penned the majority ruling concurred in by Associate Justices Reynaldo P. Cruz and Ronald B. Moreno. Associate Justices Bayani H. Jacinto and Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega dissented.
While Pimentel replaced all the cement bags and steel bars that were used to construct a solar dryer for farmers in the municipality, the court said this did not exculpate him of criminal liability.
“Under the law, the refund of the sum or restitution of the property misappropriated … does not exempt the guilty person from liability for the crime. At most, payment of the amount or restitution of the property malversed will only serve as a mitigating circumstance,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The two were sentenced to six years imprisonment for the graft case and two years for the malversation charge with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
Each was also fined P121,366.80 equivalent to the value of the property malversed.
Trial records showed the municipality was hit by typhoon Agaton in January 2014, prompting Reyes to seek help to transfer the cement and steel bars to higher ground since the multi-purpose hall where they were stored was already under threat from flood.
Reyes said he had offered the cement and steel bars for use by residents on the condition that these would be replaced but found no takers.
Reached for assistance, the mayor sent a truck on January 11, 2014 to haul away the construction materials to be brought to his private resort in Socorro Surigao del Norte.
Members of the Samahang Magsasaka ng Unaban Foundation later found the cement and steel bars missing but were replaced on February 7 and 11, 2014.
Since both Pimentel and Reyes admitted the circumstances of the transfer in their counter-affidavit submitted to the Ombudsman, the court held that this constituted judicial admissions.
It said the defendant’s excuse that the materials had to be saved from flood waters was “flimsy and illogical” as these could have simply been moved to another place without using them in the mayor’s private resort.