Soliciting prizes a crime: Sandiganbayan

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    THE Sandiganbayan has affirmed the conviction of former Puerto Princesa City tourism department head Aileen Cynthia Amurao and consultant Michael Angelo Aquino Jr. for soliciting prizes from private donors for an event held in 2014 that was supposedly covered by a local government budget.

    Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero, Sarah Jane T. Fernandez, and Karl B. Miranda ruled to deny the defendants’ motion for reconsideration wherein Amurao denied having initiated the sending of solicitation letters and conspiring with her co-accused.

    Trial records showed the City Tourism Office sent letters requesting several private firms, including telecom giants Smart Communications, Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc., to be sponsors of the “Pangalipay sa Baybay” (Merrymaking by the Bay) 2014.

    The private firms sent cash or gifts in kind in support of the festival but the city treasury denied these were recorded as officially received by the local government. Both defendants were sentenced to two years imprisonment and fined P5,000 each with perpetual disqualification from holding any other position in government in the future.

    In denying the defendants’ appeal, the Sandiganbayan noted that Amurao was not only the head of the City Tourism Office but was likewise the chairman and overall coordinator of the Pangalipay sa Baybay.

    “Accordingly, direct orders to solicit sponsorships for the summer extravaganza emanate from her. Accused Amurao bears primary and direct responsibility for the actions of her underlings,” the court pointed out.

    The Sandiganbayan also underscored that it is the act of soliciting and accepting gifts or prizes – not the intent to profit – that is prohibited by Section 7 (d) of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Official and Employees.