Bukidnon mayor, others arrested for technical malversation

The Malaybalay-based Central Mindanao Newswatch reported this week that local police executed a warrant of arrest against the mayor and five members of his administration's Local Finance Committee from 2001 to 2004.

Local police served the warrant of arrest issued by the Sandiganbayan in Quezon City against the local officials at the Municipal Hall on February 29, according to the newspaper. S/Insp. Edgardo Tumarong, admitted they did not handcuff the accused anymore.

The accused reportedly volunteered themselves to the arresting officers and were escorted to the Regional Trial Court 10 Branch 8 in Malaybalay City to post bail. Each of the six accused posted P30,000 bail bond.

Arrested with Ligan were Ma. Asuncion Codilla, municipal treasurer; Edgar Mulat, municipal engineer;  Cristito Dones, Jr., former municipal planning and development; Narciso Chavez, Jr, former municipal budget officer and now Administrative Officer IV and Ellen Piquero, municipal accountant.

Ligan and the others, however, posted bail on the same day, averting detention for the case filed by six municipal councilors against them over unauthorized diversion of funds allocated for the town's participation in the Kaamulan festival in 2002.

Instead of joining the festival that year, the municipal government decided to build a tourism hall without the approval of the municipal council, the newspaper report said.  

The arrest came 14 days after the criminal case for technical malversation or illegal use of funds was docketed at the Sandiganbayan on February 15, 2008.

Ligan was quoted by the newspaper report as saying the case was "purely politically motivated.”

He said the building is in place and he did not pocket the funds as he stressed they are ready to face charges in court.

On September 26, 2001, the Kibawe municipal council approved a budget of P500, 000 allocated for "Tourism activities/ Kaamulan" under ordinance No. 6 series of 2001.

 

Ligan in 2002, instead used the amount for the construction of the P1.2 million Tourism- Function Hall, a project for which no fund was allegedly appropriated. The provincial government reportedly gave around P700, 000 assistance for the project.

Based on the Ombudsman information approved by Tanodbayan Merceditas Gutierrez on January 22, 2008, Ligan tried to work for the realignment of the appropriation but he did this at the time when the project was ongoing as could be seen in the Minutes of the Regular Session of the municipal council on February 5, 2003.

Six of the ten municipal councilors then filed a complainant in 2003 at the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao against him.

The complaint focused on the alleged illegal construction without appropriation and knowledge of the local legislators; that the project was not within the scope of the town's infrastructure projects for the year; that it was a misapplication of public funds considering that the construction was under the category of "projects" and not under "activities".  

The complainants include Raymundo Batao, Jr., Gerardo Tan, Rogelio Lahunay, Niel Panis, Gregoria Cabug-os and Rave Romero; all members of the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Kibawe from 2001-2004.

Batao is son of former municipal mayor Raymundo, Sr. whom Ligan defeated in 2001.  

Cabug-os was the federation president of the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) and Romero, federation president of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK). Tan and Cabug-os were elected to the SB in 2007.

The accused refuted the complaint stressing the construction was covered by the annual budget for 2002; that tourism development of the town was approved by the Municipal Development Council and adopted by the SB; that the fund was used legitimately to build the hall and that "Tourism Activities/Kaamulan" should not be confined to mere street dancing but to a "more laudable and progressive" improvement of the town such as building a tourism function hall.

The Ombudsman Mindanao resolved in 2004 that by using the fund intended for "tourism Activities/ Kaamulan" for the construction of the hall, the municipal officials committed technical malversation.  

In technical malversation, the offenders do not derive any personal gain or profit or that it resulted to no damage or embarrassment to the public service; still the respondents are held liable.

Batao on March 5 defended his move to question the administration's decision then as a proof that he only meant to do his job and not to hinder projects.

Ligan said the construction of the tourism hall went through proper public bidding.   

"I never put the funds on my pocket nor my co-accused. The project is visible with our bare eyes and can be touched by our bare hands. It is there. The people of Kibawe already used it for years after its completion," he said as quoted by Central Mindanao Newswatch. Article 220 provides that "any public officer who shall apply any public fund or property under his administration to any public use other than for which such fund or property were appropriated by law or ordinance shall suffer the penalty of prison correctional in its minimum period or a fine ranging from one-half to the total of the sum misapplied, if by reason of such misapplication, any damages or embarrassment shall have resulted to the public service. In either case, the offender shall also suffer the penalty of temporary special disqualification."
 
Retired Judge Vivencio Estrada of the Regional Trial Court 10 explained that "prison correcional" refers to 6 months and one day to 2 years and 4 months imprisonment. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)

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