The Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division has convicted incumbent Gov. Alfonso Umali Jr. of Oriental Mindoro, former lawmaker Rodolfo Valencia and former Provincial board member Romualdo Bawasanta in connection with provincial funds loaned to a private individual in 2004.
At that time, Valencia was governor while Umali, who is also treasurer of the Liberal Party, was provincial administrator.
In a 37-page decision, the anti-graft court found the three defendants in the graft case guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and sentenced them to six to 10 years in prison and told them to reimburse the province the amount of P2.5 million.
Umali, Valencia and Bawasanta were among the former Oriental Mindoro public officials charged in the graft case, which stemmed from a contract of loan where provincial funds were given to private respondent Alfredo Atienza to finance the cost of repair, operation and maintenance of his vessel MV Ace intended to ply the Batangas-Calapan sea route.
“For all intents, the credit agreement is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the finance of the provincial government: it is in violation of the law as it was undertaken for a private purpose; it burdened the provincial government with financial obligations; and it had no security or guarantee from Atienza for its payment,” the court said.
In justifying the loan transaction, the defendants cited the general welfare clause, the corporate functions of the province, state of calamity and the local government code’s provision on credit financing.
But the court found no equivalency between the general welfare clause and the public service business of Atienza.
“In much the same way as government funds cannot be used to fund the maintenance and operation of any private person’s business engaged in providing gas, electric light, petroleum, wireless communication systems, broadcasting and all other private businesses enumerated under the given definition,” it said.
Meanwhile, the corporate functions of the province, it said, pertains to the government’s properties while the transport vessel was owned by a private individual.
While it is not disputed that a state of calamity was declared in Oriental Mindoro in 1993 because of Typhoon Monang, the court said, “Verily, a state of calamity under the law do not result in the suspension of the operation and efficacy of fundamental rules.”
The provision allowing local government to contract loans cannot stand as the legal basis of the transaction, because no public facility is involved.
Saying it cannot condone acts or omissions that diminish public accountability, the Sandiganbayan said in part, “Verily, the official tasks to be performed by public officials do not proceed merely from intentions or objectives conceived by them. Official functions emanate in the first place from the provisions of law which granted them defined powers and functions.”
It then sentenced Umali, Valencia and Bawasanta to imprisonment, loss of all retirement and gratuity benefits under the law, plus perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
The decision came after the court granted Valencia and Umali’s request in 2009 to reopen the case to hear their evidence. The court eventually gained jurisdiction over Bawasanta, who remained at large during the first trial.
Atienza and co-defendants Pedrito Reyes, Jose Leynes, and Jose Enriquez are appealing the 2008 decision. The appeal’s resolution was held in abeyance pending judgment in Valencia, Umali and Bawasanta’s trial.
The case against Bayani Anasatacio and Jose Genilo Jr. were dismissed because of their deaths. Meanwhile, the one against Cesario Cueto, who passed away in 2008, remains archived.
The case against Nelson Gabutero and Remedios Marasigan was dismissed in 1999 as requested by the prosecution.