Sandiganbayan (File photo)

MANILA – A couple who served as mayors of Amulung, Cagayan will have to part ways, for the next couple of decades at least, after they were convicted of graft and malversation involving more than PHP18.7 million in public funds.

The Sandiganbayan’s 6th Division, in a 134-page decision on Thursday, convicted spouses Nicanor and Pacita de Leon who succeeded each other in office from 1996 to 2010.

Nicanor was sentenced to up to 27 years in prison while his wife got up to 20 years for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and malversation of public funds

Meanwhile, former municipal treasurer Luzviminda Macasio, who remains at large, was sentenced to up to 53 years in prison.

The three were likewise ordered to pay individual fines equivalent to the sum embezzled, as well as to jointly refund and reimburse the amount to the public coffers.

In Nicanor’s case, the prosecution said between 2002 and 2007, he and Macasio defrauded the government by releasing municipal funds through the issuance and encashment of 31 Land Bank of the Philippines checks amounting to PHP16.34 million sans disbursement vouchers and other supporting documents

The misappropriation was concealed by making it appear in the town’s cashbook or cash disbursement journal that the checks were canceled, or by not including details about the checks

From 2007 to 2009, Pacita and Macasio similarly committed misappropriation amounting to PHP2.37 million involving eight checks.

The Commission on Audit (COA) noted the discrepancies in the accounting records and filed cases before the Ombudsman in 2015.

The COA said the municipality’s financial statements were unreliable and inaccurate and several funds were unaccounted for.

A special audit and investigation conducted by COA resulted in 39 notices of disallowance against the spouses, who were held liable for the total amount of PHP18,718,161.65.

The graft court said the accused “failed to present adequate evidence that can nullify any likelihood” that they put the town’s “funds to personal use.”

“Since they have failed to explain satisfactorily the shortage in Amulung’s accounts following COA’s demand, the prima facie cases (for malversation) have not been effectively negated,” the court said. (PNA)