MAYOR Alex Centena of Calinog, Iloilo cannot seek refuge in the outcome of the administrative aspect of the graft case filed against him and other municipal officials relative to the fertilizer fund scam.
This is the stand of the Sandiganbayan as regards the criminal case against Centena for violation of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) for entering into a contract with Feshan
Philippines Inc. for the purchase of 666 bottles of Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizers worth P999,000 in 2004.
Aside from Centena, the Ombudsman indicted eight other municipal officials for the same charges - Valentin B. Sobretodo, treasurer; Meriam F. Celeste, acting accountant; Crispino V. Castro, agriculturist; Jose Rex A. Casipe, supply officer; Ma. Melanie L. Hilario, acting administrator; Rhoda Lyn C. Panizales,
planning development officer; Jose Edeso A. Enriquez, engineer; and Anna Lerio Caspillo, sangguniang bayan secretary.
On Mar 9, 2019, the Sandiganbayan’s 7 th Division issued a resolution preventively suspending the accused for 90 days effective upon receipt of the order.
Preventive suspensions are meted on officials facing graft cases to prevent them from tampering evidence or intimidating potential witnesses in the case.
In an interview with Aksyon Radyo, Centena said he was surprised with the Sandiganbayan resolution saying that the Court of Appeals on Dec 21, 2017 (CA-G.R. SP No. 141500) has downgraded the charges in the administrative aspect of the case to simple misconduct and that there was no shade of corruption
in the deal.
In graft cases, the Ombudsman files two sets of charges for the administrative and criminal aspects. The Ombudsman handles the administrative case while the criminal charges are lodged with and tried by the Sandiganbayan.
But the Sandiganbayan said the “supervening event” Centena and company cited, which is the CA decision, has no bearing to the criminal case.
“It bears stressing that the criminal cases are altogether different from administrative matters, such that administrative cases may proceed independently of criminal proceedings. Consequently, criminal actions will not preclude administrative proceedings, and vice-versa, insofar as the application of the law on preventive suspension is concerned. This holds true even if both the criminal case and administrative proceedings spring from the same facts and circumstances,” the Sandiganbayan resolution said.
Centena and company also cannot invoke double jeopardy to escape criminal litigation on the basis of the CA ruling.
Double jeopardy is a legal defense that prevents an accused person from being tried again on the same charges and on the same facts, following a valid acquittal or conviction.
“Double jeopardy attaches only: (1) upon a valid indictment; (2) before a competent court; (3) after arraignment; (4) when a valid plea has been entered; and (5) when the defendant was acquitted or convicted, or the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without express consent of the accused. It should be underlined that the Court of Appeals’ Decision was not criminal in nature, but administrative. Consequently, double jeopardy will not lie,” the resolution added.