Sandigan: Evidence in graft raps vs Tacloban judge sufficient

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    THE Sandiganbayan has thrown out a bid by a regional trial court judge in Tacloban City for the outright dismissal of two counts of graft charges filed against him in 2018 in relation to allegations of partiality in favor of two defendants facing human trafficking charges before his sala.

    In a 15-page resolution issued last October 23, the Fifth Division denied the demurrer to evidence filed by Judge Crisologo Bitas challenging the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence to support the criminal offenses.

    Based on information filed by the Office of the Ombudsman, Bitas was accused of acting with partiality towards human trafficking defendants Danilo Miralles and Lynna Brito, who were granted bail even without filing a request.

    According to case records, Miralles owned and operated MV Schooner Complex, an entertainment club, while Brito was the supposed caretaker of the establishment that was raided by the Tacloban City PNP in 2009 for allegedly forcing women, including minors, to perform lewd shows.

    Despite the non-bailable nature of the charges, Bitas did not issue arrest warrants against the two and even allowed them to post bail bonds of P40,000 each even if they did not file a petition for bail and without conducting any bail hearing.

    In his demurrer to evidence, Bitas said the Ombudsman prosecutors only managed to establish that he is a public official, being an RTC judge, but claimed the evidence offered in court sufficiently proved that his actions were not attended by manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence.

    He said he merely acted within the bounds of his position by granting bail after conducting a hearing and making a determination that the evidence against Miralles and Brito was weak.

    However, the Sandiganbayan noted that the Supreme Court had found Bitas administratively liable for the same actions which resulted in his suspension from office for three months.

    While acknowledging that the weight of evidence required in an administrative proceedings is different from a criminal case, the Sandiganbayan said the SC pronouncements were relevant in the pending criminal cases against Bitas because both “involve similar operative acts.”

    The anti-graft court ordered Bitas to present evidence in his own defense to disprove and refute all allegations leveled against him.