BY JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON
A LOSING candidate in the vice mayoralty race in a town in Pan-gasinan and a former municipal treasurer are convicted of a maximum of 18 years behind bars after they raided public coffers through vale (cash advances).
Convicted in a 19-page decision of the Sandiganbayan First Division promulgated on Thursday are Marius Ladio, former mayor of Tagum, Pangasinan and losing candidate in the recently ended elections under the Liberal Party, and Virgilio Arquero, municipal treasurer. The promulgation was “as to accused Arquero.”
Ladio and Arquero stood charged after the Office of the Ombudsman slapped them with malversation for drawing P787,700 through vale, “IOUs” and chits.
During an 11-year trial, the Ombudsman presented state auditor Pedro Austria as its lone witness.
According to Austria, Arquero presented several IOUs that Ladio received and signed. These chits and vales were disallowed because under a Commission on Audit circular, “vales and chits are not accepted as payment of accountabilities of Ladio.”
Austria said that he and his team informed the defendants about the cash shortage, which both received as shown in their signature of receipt. In spite of information, the provincial capitol did not do anything.
In their defense, Arquero, on one hand, said that he only knew about the fund shortage following the audit investigation and that a certain Bella Tiglao was actually the signatory in the chits. He presented three more witnesses.
On the other, Ladio said that he did took the cash but did not spent for his personal gain, rather on road repairs caused by typhoons, construction of sports facilities, and distribution of relief goods and medicines.
He said that he resorted to vale as mode of withdrawal because Tagum has insufficient fund following the reduction of the internal revenue allotment.
He also had to make vales from the daily collection of the trea-surer’s office because of the delay in the IRA.
He added that he failed to submit the mayor’s report that details where the cash was spent because of death threats. Ladio presented seven more witnesses.
Despite 12 witnesses for its evidence, the Sandiganbayan credited the strength of the Ombudsman’s lone witness.
“The court finds that the herein accused had taken the amount and, therefore, should be held liable for the offense,” the ponen-cia of Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada read.
The magistrates ruled that Arquero’s denial “is inherently weak” and that Ladio’s evidence—primarily the disbursement vouchers which showed that the cash used in different transactions relative to disaster response—were not the proper documents.
“The vouchers can no longer be used as basis for claim for reimbursement from the municipality and for the purpose of liquidating the vales because the amounts covered in the vouchers were already paid and settled accounts,” the decision read.
The court ruled that when Ladio was asked to account the cash, it meant that he had to produce the cash bills and coins and other cash items he received, not the “collectible and receivables or even promissory notes.”
“The combined acts of Arquero giving to Ladio [the released funds]and the latter taking the public funds in exchange of the ‘vales’ lead to the conclusion that both conspired to defraud the government,” the decision read.
The Sandiganbayan ordered jailed Arquero and Ladio to a maximum of 18 years behind bars and to return P787,700 “with legal interest.” Both are also barred from holding public office.
Associate Justices Efren de la Cruz and Rafael Lagos registered concurrence.