Cebu News

Decision set for appeal: Martinez, 3 others guilty in graft case

Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  A 15-year-old graft case involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of his mother continues to hunt former Bogo, Cebu Mayor Celestino Martinez III.

On February 28, 2022, the Sandiganbayan ruled that Martinez and three of his former colleagues in the municipal government violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for taking a loan from the P20 million PDAF funds intended for livelihood projects of fisherfolk and farmers in the town under the Ginintuang Agrikulturang Makamasa program of the Department of Agriculture-7.

Bogo received the funds from DA-7 and transferred the same to the Bogo Municipal Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative (BMEMPC).

Based on findings, BMEMPC disbursed P20 million to 179 members. Up to P10.3 million was released as salary loans to local officials and employees while the remaining P9.7 million was granted as loans for livelihood projects.

Martinez, municipal treasurer Rhett Minguez, and assistant treasurer Julio Ursonal, Jr. allegedly took a loan for supposed livelihood projects while municipal accountant Cresencio Verdida allegedly took a salary loan. 

The Sandiganbayan handed down a jail term of at least six years and up to 10 years for the four respondents and disqualified them from holding public office perpetually. The anti-graft court also ordered them to pay the government jointly P20 million as civil liability.

Nine other respondents in the original complaint were cleared while the case against one other, budget officer Mary Lou Ursal, has been archived.

Martinez is the current president of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) in Cebu Province.

In a statement released on March 2, 2022, Martinez said the ruling is not final and executory yet as it is appealable, something that he intends do. He said his lawyers are now studying the matter.

"Last Monday (Feb 28, 2022), there was a decision promulgated by Sandiganbayan for a case when I was still Mayor almost 15 years ago for an alleged violation of Republic Act 3019. Such decision isn’t final and executory yet as the same is still subject for a reconsideration or appeal – a remedy afforded to us under the Rules of Court. 

I have my lawyers prepare and study the necessary legal actions in accordance with the Rules. Clearly, the same is still pending before our Courts thus I will refrain from commenting on the facts and the issues surrounding the case in compliance with the sub Judice rule.

I have high respect towards the integrity of our Justice System and believe that truth and justice will be duly served. When I decided to run for office, I have already anticipated that this would happen. Thus, this will not diminish my steadfast commitment towards my vision for the 4th District of Cebu."

Four residents of Bogo City filed the original complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman, which was forwarded to the Commission on Audit for a special audit investigation.

The audit findings raised red flags, prompting the Ombudsman to pursue a fact-finding investigation. On September 7, 2009, the Ombudsman recommended the filing of formal charges.

The decision in the Sandidanbayan Sixth Division was penned by Associate Justice Kevin Narce Vivero and concurred to by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez (chairperson) and Associate Justice Karl Miranda. – JMO (FREEMAN)


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