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Sandiganbayan acquits ex-Iloilo mayor Esmeralda of graft

The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Igbaras, Iloilo Mayor Jaime Esmeralda of graft in connection with the alleged anomalous road rehabilitation projects implemented in his municipality in 2004.

In a 23-page decision penned by Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez, the anti-graft court's Third Division said it found no basis to convict Esmeralda since the prosecution failed to prove conspiracy between him and his co-accused.

"Nothing convincing to support a conspiracy appears in this case," the decision read.

The Sandiganbayan likewise acquitted then-municipal treasurer Cynthia Cabañero, private secretary Pio Elumba, Edwin Romualdo of E.S. Romualdo Construction and Arthur Go of South Pacific Builders Center, Inc.

Esmeralda and his co-accused were charged with one count for violation Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly receiving one million from the office of Sen. Franklin Drilon for the rehabilitation of Kinagdan-Mulangan and Cale-Indaluyon Roads in Igbaras town which went unimplemented.

Investigations showed no rehabilitation works were conducted in the said highways since E.S. Romualdo Construction and South Pacific Builders Center Inc. "failed to have the road surface graded, and by not establishing the furnishing, placing and compacting of aggregate base cause on a prepared sub-base, the grades, thickness, typical section of the said roads and its road measurement."

State prosecutors said the unrehabilitated roads and non-delivery of materials and equipment in Igbaras caused undue injury to the government when Esmeralda and his co-accused gave unwarranted benefits to the construction firm.

However, the Sandiganbayan said materials and equipment for the contract were actually delivered to the municipality, as stated in an inspection report from the Commission on Audit and was testified by municipal engineer Anastacio Escobido.

The Sandiganbayan added that Romualdo and Go, as private respondents, should not be implicated to the crime since their contracts only entailed the delivery of supplies for the rehabilitation project.

"The supply of materials was awarded to E. S. Romualdo Construction and Supply, a sole proprietorship owned by accused-private individual Romualdo while the contract for the supply of equipment was awarded to South Pacific Builders, Inc., a domestic corporation, with accused private individual Go being a stockholder.," the decision read.

The Sandiganbayan noted the contract between the two construction firms was only a "contract by administration," meaning the actual implementation of the project has to be carried out under the administration and supervision of the local government.

The anti-graft court said the payment of P1 million to E. S. Romualdo Construction and Supply and South Pacific Builders, Inc. is incumbent for Esmeralda since both companies fulfilled their obligations.

"From the foregoing, it can be inferred that the accused public officers did not cause any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his functions," the Sandiganbayan said.

"Although finding the accused to be without fault, this Court finds it necessary to emphasize, as a final note, that conspiracy does not exist," it added. — RSJ, GMA News