Former Cebu mayor pleads guilty to lesser crime than face graft trial

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    FORMER Carcar, Cebu mayor Mario Patricio Barcenas has been allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense of failure of accountable officer to render accounts rather than stand trial for graft charge alleging anomalous procurement of fertilizer worth P240,000 in 2005.

    In its January 22, 2020 decision, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division convicted Barcenas of the lesser offense and imposed upon him the penalty of fine amounting to P5,000.

    However, the court said he is civilly liable for the questioned transaction and must refund the full P249,000 to the municipal (now city) government of Carcar.

    Payment of the said amount was made a precondition before Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved the defendant’s plea bargaining agreement.

    The decision was penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta, with Associate Justices Georgina D. Hidalgo and Bayani H. Jacinto concurring.

    Case records showed Barcenas was charged in 2018 together with municipal agriculturist Roque Sarcauga, who had earlier entered into a separate plea bargain deal with the prosecution, and municipal planning and development coordinator Valentin Gamutan Jr. who passed away during the pendency of the case.

    Private defendant Marlyn Castillo, representative of fertilizer supplier/contractor M.M. Castillo General Merchandise (MMCGM), remains at large.

    Prosecutors said the accused public officials unlawfully favored M.M. Castillo by awarding it the supply contract without undergoing a competitive public bidding.

    They said the specification was modified without process, canceling the purchase of common fertilizer and changing it to foliar fertilizer at P1,500 per bottle. Barcenas approved the transaction by direct contracting as a mode of procurement.

    When the case went to court, the former mayor sought to get it dismissed by challenging the validity of the information, claiming inordinate delay, and asserting that there was no undue injury inflicted on the municipal government of Carcar.

    In a resolution dated August 23, 2018, the Sandiganbayan threw out all his challenges and ordered him to raise his arguments in a full-blown trial.

    During the scheduled start of the prosecution’s presentation of evidence on September 16, 2019, Barcenas manifested through counsel that he intends to submit a plea bargain offer.

    “Clearly, this Court cannot compel the prosecution to continue prosecuting the case by virtue of its agreement that accused be allowed to plea bargain to a lesser offense. The plea bargain is thus considered approved,” the Sandiganbayan said.