Sandigan upholds graft conviction of ex-town mayor
(The Freeman) - November 21, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  The Sandiganbayan has upheld the conviction of former Corella, Bohol mayor Vito Rapal over his failure to liquidate P1.088-million worth of cash advances and for pocketing P92,239.70 intended for tarsier preservation.

The court’s Fourth Division, in a resolution promulgated on October 29, denied Rapal’s motion for reconsideration seeking the reversal of its October 4 decision which found him guilty of two counts of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and one count each of estafa and failure to render accounts as defined under the Revised Penal Code.

The court had earlier sentenced Rapal to six to 10 years of imprisonment for each count of graft, two months to one year of imprisonment for estafa and six months to one year of imprisonment for failure to render his accounts or a total of up to 22 years.

He was also ordered perpetually disqualified from holding public office and to pay the Corella municipal government a total of P1.18 million.

Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2015, the cases stemmed from Rapal’s receipt of a total of P1.088 million in cash advances from 2004 to 2010 supposedly for confidential and intelligence purposes, official travels, miscellaneous and other expenses.

The anti-graft office said Rapal failed to liquidate the cash advances beyond the allowable period prescribed by the Commission on Audit (COA) and despite the repeated demand of the municipal government.

Furthermore, the ombudsman said Rapal also pocketed in 2008 to 2009 fund totaling P92,239 representing the municipal government’s 40-percent income share from its joint undertaking with the Philippine Tarsier Foundation Inc. (PTFI) in the operation of the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary.

In his motion for reconsideration, Rapal insisted that the ombudsman’s prosecution team failed to prove his “bad faith” in failing to liquidate his cash advances.

Rapal argued that he believed in “good faith” that his previous cash advances were already liquidated by his subordinates as his subsequent requests for cash advance have been granted.

The Fourth Division, however, reiterated its findings in the assailed decision that the approval of Rapal’s subsequent requests for cash advance “can be attributed to his act of using his position as mayor to intimidate the person in charge of approving the same, Municipal Accountant Inosentes Lamay”.

Lamay had earlier testified that Rapal’s subsequent requests were granted despite the non-liquidation of the previous cash advances as the then mayor “will get angry to the employees if he will not have the cash advance”.

The court also found no merit on Rapal’s denial of receiving the tarsier funds remitted by PTFI. The court cited the testimonies of then Mayor’s Office secretary Celerina Varquez and municipal tourism officer Maria Asuncion Pandan who both said that they were ordered by Rapal to directly hand to him the income share received from PTFI instead of remitting the amount to the Municipal Treasurer’s Office to be deposited under the municipality’s Tarsier Fund account.

The court said Varquez’ and Pandan’s testimonies were supported by a “Summary of Collections” and “Report on Income” which were both signed by Rapa.

“By placing his signature in the above-quoted documents, it readily appears that Rapal has admitted to having previously received the Tarsier funds that were collected by Varquez and Pandan on his behalf,” the Fourth Division said.

The Fourth Division noted that Rapal even attempted to offset the missing amount of Tarsier fund from his terminal leave credits. The court said such act was “contrary to human experience if he has indeed not received the aforesaid amount from Pandan and Varquez.” — Philstar News Service, FPL (FREEMAN)

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