Anti-graft court acquits ex-Cebu City councilor of graft

·3 min read

THE Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Cebu City councilor Rodolfo Cabrera of graft charges over the alleged overpricing of a P26-million socialized condominium project in back in 1997.

In a 16-page decision promulgated on June 24, 2022, the Sandiganbayan's Second Division has acquitted Cabrera after the Office of the Ombudsman, who serves as prosecutor, failed to prove that he violated provisions of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In their decision, Sandiganbayan Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi, Oscar Herrera Jr. and Arthur Malabaguio ordered that cash bond posted by Cabrera be returned to him and that the hold departure order issued against him be lifted and set aside.

The three associate justices also cleared Cabrera of any civil liabilities related to the case.

Lack of evidence

The three associate justices said they decided to clear Cabrera of any wrongdoing after the prosecution failed to establish that he showed bad faith, manifest partiality and gave any private party unwarranted benefits when he and his fellow co-accused entered into contract with Octa Builders Inc., the winning contractor of the controversial condominium project.

Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 penalizes public officers if they cause "any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence."

"In this case, the prosecution failed to offer any proof of the actual damage suffered by the government. Octa Builders Inc. was able to turn over the completed project and there was no proof of any notice of disallowance from the COA," the decision added.

25-year-old case

In 1997, Cabrera, along with former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia, and fellow city councilors Laurito Malinao and Rico Rey "Koko" Holganza; then City Treasurer Eustaquio Cesa; and private representative Pura Cimafranca were sued before the Office of the Ombudsman over allegations that they conspired to overprice the cost of a socialized condominium project worth P26.6 million.

The complaint against the six officials stemmed from a report by the Commission on Audit that the contract awarded by the City to Octa Builders, the winning contractor for the project, was 49.54 percent higher than the state auditing agency's estimate of P17.81 million.

Cabrera and his fellow co-accused were administratively and criminally charged by the anti-graft office due to their role as members of the city's Pre-qualification, Bids and Awards Committee (PBAC) then.

In 2013, the Sandiganbayan issued arrest warrants against Cabrera and his fellow co-accused, except for Holganza, whose preliminary investigation was then still pending before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

On the same year, Garcia and Cesa were able to post bail while Cabrera posted bail on February 11, 2014.

The National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas failed to arrest Malinao as he was reportedly deceased while Cimafranca remained at large.

In 2014 and 2015, Garcia and Cabrera were arraigned, respectively, before the anti-graft court, both pleading not guilty.

In 2016, Holganza was taken out of the list of the accused in the case after the Sandiganbayan granted his motion to dismiss on the grounds of inordinate delay.

Three years later, Garcia also filed a motion to dismiss before the anti-graft court, citing inordinate delay in completing the preliminary investigation of the case. In June 2021, the Sandiganbayan granted Garcia's motion on the ground of violation of his constitutional right to the speedy disposition of cases.

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