Iloilo City mayor acquitted of graft

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    THE Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has acquitted incumbent Iloilo City mayor Geronimo “Jerry” Treñas of a graft case filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2017 in connection to the alleged mishandling of a P500,000 cash assistance from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of former senator now Antique Rep. Loren Legarda.

    In a 54-page decision dated January 31, 2020, the anti-graft court held that the accused is entitled to an acquittal for failure of the prosecution to prove that he acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence when he released the money to the Iloilo Press Club (IPC) rather than to the Iloilo Press Club Inc. which claimed to have made the request to Legarda for the financial grant.

    Associate Justice Georgina D. Hidalgo penned the decision with Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta and Zaldy V. Trespeses concurring.

    Based on the information, Treñas allegedly favored the IPC by releasing the money to the latter in 2004 even if it was not an accredited non-government organization of the city government.

    The money was intended for the construction of a press club building/center in Molo, Iloilo City but Treñas allegedly failed to monitor its implementation as well as the required liquidation of the cash grant after the project completion.

    The anti-graft court said the liability of the defendant can only be limited in relation to his act of giving the P500,000 to the press club headed by Lemuel Fernandez, instead of the other media group headed by Eduardo Jalbuna.

    It pointed out that the city mayor’s action did not characterize any of the modes by which a public official can be held liable for violating section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, or the provision on partiality, bad faith, or gross negligence.

    “The Court, after careful examination of the testimonies of the witnesses and pertinent documentary evidence presented, finds that all three modes do not exist,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    On his alleged bias in favor of the IPC, the court pointed out that the money was specifically intended for “the Iloilo Press Club Bldg/Center” and not to any of the two press organizations, as seen in the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) pertaining to the cash grant from Legarda’s PDAF.

    The court said the squabble between the two local press clubs is immaterial as far as the graft case is concerned.

    For the lack of evidence to prove the second element of the graft charge, the court said it has no reason to hold Treñas guilty of the criminal offense.