Supreme Court (File photo)

MANILA – The Supreme Court has convicted a former provincial agrarian reform adjudicator for extorting cash and tuna fish from litigants 15 years ago.

In its 21-page decision made available online on Monday, the SC affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s 2019 decision convicting  Henry Gelacio of the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (Darab) Region XII based in Kidapawan City, Cotabato for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and sentenced him to up to eight years behind bars.

He was acquitted of a second charge of violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Gelacio was found guilty of soliciting and accepting a total of PHP120,000 and a whole tuna fish for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) in a case in 2007.

“There is nothing that will justify the acts of accused-appellant in accepting monetary and non-monetary considerations in exchange of a favorable action in the administrative case he was officially presiding,” the SC said in affirming Gelacio’s conviction.

The case involved a group of farmers, including the complainants led by the late Eduardo Garbo, who had pending cases between August and November 2007.

Gelacio’s demand was made through the farmers' lawyer, who said the former Darab exec asked for money in exchange for a TRO.

Garbo gave PHP20,000 to Gelacio himself on two occasions in exchange for a draft of the TRO.

The accused also asked for a whole tuna fish, which was also delivered to him.

The other litigants pooled money to meet the PHP120,000 demand.

Garbo and his fellow litigants said the extortion adversely affected the livelihood of the farmers because they had to sell their farm animals and equipment, thus forcing their children to stop attending school.

At the time of Garbo’s death, the disbarment complaint he lodged against the accused was dismissed by the SC for being inconclusive and unreliable.

The SC noted that while the complainant had died before he was able to testify before the Sandiganbayan, the prosecution was still able to present other witnesses, including Garbo’s widow, Herminigilda, who accompanied her husband in making the payoffs.

“Private complainants should have received a fair trial in the Darab case without resorting to giving the accused-appellant monetary and non-monetary gifts. However, due to the nefarious solicitations of accused-appellant, private complainants had to expend additional and unnecessary personal funds to secure a TRO from the Darab,” the SC ruled. (PNA)