THE Supreme Court has absolved former Mayor Ignacio Taruc of Buguey, Cagayan of a graft case for withholding of salaries of town hall employees appointed by his political rival.
In a resolution released earlier this week, the SC’s First Division overturned and set aside an earlier ruling of the Sandiganbayan that found Taruc guilty of violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The high court granted the petition of the former mayor assailing the Sandiganbayan’s verdict that sentenced him to a maximum of 10 years in prison and ordered his perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
The SC ruled that the anti-graft court committed error in its verdict because the prosecution failed to prove Taruc was guilty beyond reasonable doubt during trial.
“In view of the foregoing, we find and so hold that the prosecution failed to prove the elements of manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and undue injury beyond reasonable doubt. Absent these elements, petitioner cannot be found guilty of violating Section 3(e) of RA No. 3019,” read the ruling.
Ombudsman accused Taruc of withholding the salaries for ten months in 2007 of five employees – Melchor Tabajero, Quirino Ayonayon Jr., Delia Nuevo, Nuelyn Pagay and Lilibeth Usigan – who were appointed by then vice mayor Licerio Antiporda III.
During trial in the Sandiganbayan, they presented documents to show that the employees were entitled to receive their salaries because they had valid appointments and they rendered services as shown in their daily time record and employee logbook.
The anti-graft court then convicted Taruc and held that he “demonstrated his perverse motive or ill-will to complainants, known appointees of his political rival, by his refusal to sign the check (representing their salaries).”
However, the SC disagreed, saying the elements of manifest partiality and evident bad faith, as required by law, were not present in the case.
The Court bought the explanation of petitioner that the five complainants were not given salary because they did not report for work during the said period.
“We find that the records are bereft of any documentary or testimonial evidence showing that complainants timely provided petitioner with any basis proving that they have rendered services for the period they are claiming salaries for. On the contrary, documentary evidence shows that for the relevant period of time, or from July 1 to August 31, 2007, complainants have not been registering their office hours in the logbook for employees,” the ruling stressed.
“All told, complainants’ contention that petitioner ‘showed manifest partiality and evident bad faith by his unauthorized/unjustified withholding of the salaries of the complainants’ is untenable. As clearly shown, the action taken by petitioner was not entirely without rhyme or reason,” the SC said.
The SC also held that the element of “undue injury” was not clearly established during trial.
“We fail to see how these allegations constitute the undue injury contemplated by the law as an element of offense charged. Complainants did not give specific details but provided only vague and speculative references…” it said.