Sandiganbayan convicts Bukidnon mayor for illegally diverting fund

MANILA (Mabuhay) – The Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division has found Kibawe, Bukidnon Mayor Luciano Ligan “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of technical malversation for illegally diverting public funds in 2002 supposedly for the town’s tourism activities.

In a 29-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, the court said Ligan and three other municipal officials, conspired to illegally divert funds worth P500,000 appropriated by the municipal council for the town’s Kaamulan Festival celebrated from December 2002 to January 2003.

The court said the fund was instead used for the construction of the Tourism Function Hall, “for which no fund was appropriated either by law or ordinance.”

The Fifth Division said Ligan and his co-accused’s acts can be considered Technical Malversation or Illegal Use of Public Funds as punishable under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

“The mere availability of funds from savings, if any, does not carry with it authority to use them for purposes other than those for which they were appropriated,” the court’s ruling read.

The resolution was concurred by Fifth Division chairman Associate Justice Roland Jurado and senior member Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo.

Convicted with Ligan of the same offense were Municipal Treasurer Ma. Asuncion Codilla, Municipal Budget Officer Narciso Chaves, Jr. and Municipal Accountant Ellen Piquero.

Article 220 of the RPC penalizes public officer who allows the use public fund or property for public purpose other than for which such fund or property was appropriated by law or ordinance.

The court did not give weight on the respondents’ defense that the construction of the Tourism Function Hall was aimed at further promoting tourism in the town, especially of the Kaamulan Festival.

“The Court is not persuaded by the accused’s strained attempts to link the construction with tourism activities….[The Court] fails to see the slightest connection between the promotion of tourism/participation in the Kaamulan Festival with the construction of the Tourism Function Hall,” the Fifth Division said in its resolution.

The court, however, noted that the prosecution failed to prove that the construction of the function hall had caused undue damage or embarrassment to the public service, thus, the maximum penalty that should be imposed to each accused was just a fine equivalent to 5 percent of the 50 percent of the total amount of funds misapplied.

“Since no such damage or embarrassment to the public service has been proven…This court finds it fair to impose a penalty of fine equivalent to P5% of P266,277.94 or P13,313.90,” the court said.

Meanwhile, the court dismissed the case against co-accused Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator Crestito Dones Jr. and Municipal Engineer Edgar Mulat for “reasonable doubt” in their guilt. (MNS)

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