Court affirms graft conviction of ex-Sarangani guv, exec

By Benjamin Pulta

November 9, 2023, 4:02 pm

MANILA – The Sandiganbayan on Thursday upheld its earlier ruling convicting former Sarangani governor Miguel Escobar and another former provincial official on graft and malversation of public funds charges, amounting to PHP450,000.

In a resolution dated Nov.9, the anti-graft court denied a motion for reconsideration filed by Escobar in connection with his conviction last August on the same charges arising from transactions in 2002 involving financial aid given to a fisherfolk group.

The tribunal also found guilty in its original ruling was then management analyst Alexis Jude Dela Cruz.

The accused were sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment and directed to reimburse the provincial government PHP450,000, and to pay a fine of PHP5,000 each.

"All told, accused Escobar and Dela Cruz failed to show any compelling reason why this Court should re-evaluate their arguments in their Motions and overturn its earlier pronouncement," Associate Justice Kevin Narce Vivero said in the ruling.

"Anent, accused Escobar's defense of good faith, we reiterate our ruling in the assailed Decision that he cannot simply invoke good faith to escape liability," the tribunal said.

Escobar claimed that he relied in good faith that the provincial administrator reviewed the letter request and supporting documents for the financial assistance to Malapatan Fishermen's Group.

However, the anti-graft court said there were deficiencies and irregularities in the documents that should have alerted the then-governor.

"Dela Cruz's claim that he did not receive any money or renumeration from the transaction and that shows his lack of motive to commit the crime is misplaced. Receipt of a sum of money or motive is not an essential element of the crime, thus, dispensable for conviction," the tribunal ruled.

The cases against former vice governor Felipe Constantino and board member Juanito Purisima have been dismissed in light of their deaths.

The court said the accused made it appear that PHP450,000 in financial assistance was requested and given to the Malapatan Fishermen's Group, even as the prosecution showed that the group never received the financial assistance even after the check had been cashed. (PNA)