The Supreme Court has exonerated a former mayor Cabuyao City mayor convicted by the Sandiganbayan of graft in 2019 for being a director of a private development bank while he was the city’s chief executive.
In a resolution, the SC acquitted Isidro Lebrilla Hemedes Jr. who served as Cabuyao City in Laguna from 2007 to 2016.
Record showed that Hemedes was charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The law prohibits a public official from being “a director or indirectly having financing or pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in connection with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity, or in which he is prohibited by the Constitution or by any law from having any interest.”
A complaint filed by a certain Feliciano Lavina cited that Presidential Decree No. 119, the Private Development Banks Act, and the General Banking Law of 2000 prohibit appointive or elective officials from being an officer of any private bank, either in full or part-time capacity.
The complainant also invoked the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which bans public officials from engaging in private practice of their profession unless authorized by law.
In his defense, Hemedes argued that his being a member of the board of directors of the Luzon Development Bank (LDB) did not cause prejudice to public service or to Cabuyao City. He said he worked full-time as the city’s chief executive.
In convicting Hemedes, who was sentenced to a prison term of six years and one month to eight years with perpetual disqualification to hold public office, the Sandiganbayan junked the former mayor’s defense that he did not take any active part in the management of LDB affairs as a corporate entity from 2006 to 2014, and had no direct or indirect financial or pecuniary interest in the bank. Rey E. Requejo
Hemedes appealed the Sandiganbayan ruling before the SC which ruled that the anti-graft court “seriously erred when it held Hemedes liable for the crime charged even when the clear and simple import of PD No. 119 merely specifies those who are qualified or disqualified to hold particular positions in a private development bank.”
“Even if accused-appellant is disqualified from becoming a director in LDB, he remains a stockholder thereof, which is not prohibited in PD No. 119. This reinforces the conclusion that PD No. 119 is not the law that prohibits the holding of interest of public officials in a business, contract or transaction within the ambit of Section 3(h) of RA No. 3019,” the SC said.
If at all, the SC said, the liability of accused-appellant is only administrative in nature for having transgressed an established and definite rule of action, when he concurrently held the position of city mayor and director of LDB in violation of Section 1, PD No. 119.
The SC ruled that insofar as his criminal liability is concerned, the prosecution has failed to establish with moral certainty all the elements of the crime charged, especially it was not established beyond reasonable doubt that the third element exists — that accused-appellant is prohibited by a law from having an interest in LDB.
The SC stressed that PD No. 119 does not prohibit him from having an interest in LDB. He can have such interest, only that he is prohibited from holding certain positions.
“In all criminal prosecutions, the prosecution bears the burden to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. In discharging this burden, the prosecution’s duty is to prove each and every element of the crime charged,” it said.