The Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division sentenced former Mayor Apollo Feraren of San Teodoro town, Oriental Mindoro to maximum of 10 years in prison for negligence after allowing a private individual use government-owned heavy equipment free of charge in 2004.
The court also meted Feraren with accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from any public office for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“As shown by the evidence presented before this court, accused Feraren gave unwarranted benefit or advantage to Eugene Li to the damage and prejudice of the Municipality of San Teodoro through gross inexcusable negligence by allowing Li to use the road grader, backhoe and dump truck owned by the municipality for the clearing operations of Li’s land without payment of rentals,” it said in a 19-page decision promulgated on September 19.
According to the ruling, the witnesses, including heavy-equipment drivers Nestor Elis and Roberto Santero categorically stated that Feraren authorized the lease of the heavy equipment to Li.
The prosecution also presented municipal councilor Amir de Leon Bae as witness who attested that the equipment were leased to Li, owner of a coconut fiber factory, without the town council’s authority and did not pay any rental to the local government.
As Feraren’s witness, Li told the court that Elis and Santero offered him to use the equipment as long as he pays their salaries and was not aware that using a government vehicle is a violation of the law.
In its ruling, the court said Feraren “should have exercised extraordinary diligence” in ensuring that the use and lease of the town’s property were in line with proper procedure and requirements.
It added that “[h]e allowed a private individual to use the heavy equipment of the municipality without entering into a lease contract and without proper payment of rentals resulting in the deprivation of the municipality of its income and property.”
The court said Feraren “did not bother to check” if Li’s operations followed applicable rules of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which certified that no Environmental Compliance Certificate for Li’s coconut husk fiber project was issued.
Associate Justice Jose Hernandez, of the Fourth Division, penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Alex Quiroz and Geraldine Faith Econg.
Section 3(e) of the anti-graft law prohibits public officials from causing undue injury to any party, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of their official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.