Lanao Sur town mayor cleared of graft

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Mayor Edna Benito of Balabagan, Lanao del Sur has been cleared of graft in connection with the non-payment of the salary of an ex-officio member of the municipal council.

In a 30-page decision promulgated on Jan. 29, the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division said the Office of the Ombudsman failed to establish that Benito had a hand in the non-payment of the salary of Nasser Disalongan from December 2013 to January 2015 amounting to P280,000.

The court sided with Benito’s defense that it was not her duty to process or approve the payment of the salaries of members of the Sangguniang Bayan since the vice mayor serves as chairman of the municipal council.

“The prosecution failed to establish that she acted in bad faith and/or gross inexcusable negligence,” the court ruling read. “Neither did the prosecution convincingly show to this court the legal duty of Benito in relation to the processing of disbursement vouchers and payment of salaries of the Sangguniang Bayan.”

The same decision convicted Benito’s co-accused – municipal assessor Sultan Rascal Arimao, accountant Najib Zacaria and acting treasurer Casangoan Marohom.

The three municipal government officials were sentenced to up to eight years in prison and perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

“Arimao, Zacaria and Marohom are duty-bound by law to process the disbursement vouchers of complainant. Despite repeated demands, they willfully and deliberately failed without just cause to act on it for a year,” the court said.

Based on the charge sheet filed by the ombudsman in 2016, Disalongan was entitled to a monthly salary of P20,000 as an ex-officio member of the municipal council being the president of the Liga ng mga Barangay.

“It is extremely difficult to find a plausible explanation why the salaries of the complainant were excluded from the rest of the employees of the municipality of Balabagan, Lanao del Sur,” the court said.


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