THERE is no usurpation of authority or official functions where one held the position only in good faith.
With this pronouncement, the Sandiganbayan acquitted former San Jose del Monte City vice mayor Reynaldo San Pedro and councilor Nolly Concepcion of two counts of violation of Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code penalizing usurpation of official functions.
In the 93-page decision penned by Associate Justice Georgina D. Hidalgo and concurred in by Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez Estoesta and Zaldy V. Trespeses, the anti-graft court’s Seventh Division said the evidence presented in court against the accused failed to measure up to proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“(T)he entirety of the evidence adduced by the prosecution as against the said accused failed to pass the test of moral certainty and are inadequate to overturn the presumption of innocence in their favor. When there is reasonable doubt, the herein accused thus must be acquitted,” the court declared.
Based on separate information filed in 2016, the Office of the Ombudsman accused San Pedro and Concepcion of unlawfully holding on to their respective temporary posts of city mayor and vice mayor and continuing to discharge the powers and duties of the said offices even if a candidate had been declared the real winner in the 2007 elections.
The confusion arose from the initial declaration of Eduardo Roquero on May 14, 2007 as the winner of the mayoralty elections.
Roquero’s opponent, former Rep. Angelito Sarmiento, filed a protest resulting in the recall of Roquero’s proclamation on March 9, 2009 as Sarmiento was found to have garnered 56,688 votes against his opponent’s 55,364 total votes.
Roquero challenged this ruling but before his petition can be resolved, he died on August 24, 2009, resulting in the succession of San Pedro into the vacated seat.
Concepcion then took over San Pedro’s former post as the city councilor who won with the biggest number of votes.
On September 8, 2009 the Commission on Elections en banc dismissed the protest of the late mayor Roquero and declared Sarmiento as the duly elected mayor of the city.
However, the poll body’s order was delivered to the City Hall only on September 10, 2009, a holiday.
“In jurisprudence, good faith is an accepted defense in the criminal prosecution of usurpation of official functions. Here, the honest intention of the said accused can be inferred from their candid admissions that they only stayed in their respective positions as Mayor and Vice Mayor since they were waiting for the pending motion …to be resolved,” the court pointed out.
The Sangguniang Panlungsod formally acknowledged the incumbency of Sarmiento only on October 19, 2009 through Kapasiyahan Blg. 2009-840-10.