Graft court suspends Calinog mayor

The Sandiganbayan has ordered the 90-day suspension of Calinog Mayor Alex Centena from public Office while his graft case is ongoing.

The case filed against Centena is in connection with the alleged anomalous purchase of liquid fertilizers in 2004.

The graft court’s Seventh Division, in its four-page resolution promulgated on March 6, 2019, said its preventive suspension order is mandatory under Section 13 of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practice.

“Any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act or under Title Seven Book II of the Revised Penal Code or for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property whether as a simple or as complex offense and in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court shall be suspended from office,” the Sandiganbayan quoted the provision of the law.

Also ordered suspended were Valentin Sobretodo, Meriam Celeste, Crispino Castro, Jose Rex Casipe, Melanie Hilario, Rhoda Lyn Panizales, and Anna Lerio Caspillo.

The Office of the Ombudsman filed two sets of charges for the administrative and criminal aspects. It handles the administrative case while the criminal charges are lodged with and tried by the Sandiganbayan.

According to the Sandiganbayan, “while the accused cited a ‘supervening event’ that supposedly bars their preventive suspension, which was the Court of Appeals’ Decision dated December 21, 2017 in ‘Sobretodo v. Task Force Abono,’ docketed as CA- G.R. SP No. 141500, the same has no bearing to the present controversy.”

“It bears stressing that criminal cases are altogether different from administrative matters, such that administrative cases may proceed independently of criminal proceedings,” it said.

“Consequently, criminal actions will not preclude administrative proceedings, and vice-versa, insofar as the application of the law on preventive suspension is concerned. This holds true even if both the criminal case and administrative proceedings spring from the same facts and circumstances,” the graft court further said.

The Sandiganbayan said the accused municipal officials also cannot invoke double jeopardy to escape criminal litigation on the basis of the Court of Appeals ruling.

“Double jeopardy attaches only: (1) upon a valid indictment; (2) before a competent court; (3) after arraignment; (4) when a valid plea has been entered; and (5) when the defendant was acquitted or convicted, or the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without express consent of the accused. It should be underlined that the Court of Appeals’ Decision was not criminal in nature, but administrative. Consequently, double jeopardy will not lie.”

Centena and other respondents were accused of violating Section 3(e) of RA 3019.

The mayor entered into a contract with Feshan Philippines Inc. for the purchase of 666 bottles of Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizers worth P999,000 in 2004.

According to the Ombudsman, “the contract with Feshan was sealed through direct contracting and without complying first with the mandatory public bidding as required under procurement rules, therefore causing undue injury to the government.”IMT

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