Sandiganbayan  (File photo)

MANILA – The Sandiganbayan has acquitted a former mayor in Antique accused of ordering the unauthorized bulldozing and removal of 245 coconut trees in 2014.

In a 19-page decision dated October 22, the Sandiganbayan 5th Division acquitted then-mayor of Caluya town and now vice mayor, Genevive Lim-Reyes, for alleged violations of Republic Acts 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and 8048 (Coconut Preservation Act).

Caluya covers Semirara Island, where two of the country’s primary sources of coal, the Panian and the now-closed Unong mines, are located.

Witnesses for Lim-Reyes, led by Bernardo Magdaug, president of the Sabang Poocan Farmers Fishermen Association, testified that the coconut trees shown in photos submitted by the prosecution, were planted by a certain Eliodoro Ysug on the adjacent Lot 912, and not on the five-hectare relocation site being complained by Juliet Ramos.

Ramos claimed that the municipal government planted coconut trees on the Poocan Relocation Site, which was intended for displaced residents of Sitio Sabang.

Part of the relocation site was donated by the Janairo family to the municipal government, which purchased an additional two hectares.

Another resident testified that the relocation site is a pastureland with no coconut trees planted on it.

“The existence of the 245 coconut trees was not established by clear and convincing evidence. The photo marked and presented by the prosecution depicts a hundred coconut trees at most, without reference to its location. This same observation goes with the alleged bulldozed coconut trees. The photo presented only shows a few cut coconut trees as opposed to the claim that a couple of hundred was bulldozed/cut during the clearing operations and still, it is without reference to the location and without proof that the cutting was done by a bulldozer,” read the decision, which was written by Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega.

The court ruled that no civil liability can be imposed on the accused as there was no proof that Lim-Reyes caused any undue injury. (PNA)