SIX former officials of the provincial government of Zamboanga Sibugay have been convicted by the Sandiganbayan of multiple charges of graft, malversation of public funds, and falsification of public documents over irregularities in the distribution of cash assistance to poor households in 2001.
In a 91-page decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta, the Seventh Division convicted former Sangguniang Panlalawigan members Edgar Gonzales, Ares Modapil, and George Castillo; executive assistant to the governor Lucia Palang; administrative assistant Editha Quinte; and bookbinder Juanito Taripe.
Gonzales and Taripe were both sentenced to 18 years for three counts of graft and additional six years for three counts of falsification of public documents with total fines of P15,000 each.
Quinte and Palang were meted 16 months to 12 years in jail for two counts of malversation of public funds with fines of P5,000 for each count.
Modapil was pronounced guilty on one count of graft and falsification of public documents for which he received sentences of eight to 16 years imprisonment plus a P5,000 fine.
Castillo earned six to eight years for graft and two to eight years for falsification of public documents with a fine of P5,000.
Associate Justices Zaldy V. Trespeses and Georgina D. Hidalgo concurred.
Based on the charges filed in 2010, the defendants were accused of involvement in the siphoning of funds under the Aid to the Poor Program of the late Governor George Hofer, who was originally named co-accused.
Prosecutors said it was Hofer or the Sangguniang Panlalawigan members who received the money that the rank and file defendants covered up by submitting bogus list of recipients.
Hofer died in 2019 before the trial could be concluded, resulting in the dismissal of the charges against him, while proceedings against the rest of his co-accused continued.
The irregularities were discovered by a special audit team created by the Commission on Audit to review the transactions.
In holding the defendants guilty, the court noted that through the trial, the existence of the supposed beneficiaries was never established through the national registry, the Commission on Elections, the Philippine Statistics Authority, or the Local Civil Registrar.