The Sandiganbayan First Division has cleared former Provincial Board member and Bien Unido mayor Niño Rey Boniel, who is detained on parricide charges, of a graft complaint which was filed against him in 2008 for a cockpit arena licensing controversy.
The case stemmed from Boniel’s alleged baseless refusal to issue to Virginia Baruffol a permit to operate her business, the Bien Unido Cockpit Arena (BUCA). Boniel, who was then Bien Unido mayor instead allegedly issued a permit to Bien Unido Tourists Sports Complex Incorporated (BUTSCI), which is owned by his relatives.
However, the Ombudsman failed to prove that Boniel and his co-accused violated Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, according to a 39-page decision of the Sandigabanyan First Division which was promulgated on June 21.
The Sandiganbayan also cleared former vice mayor Petronilo Justiniane and former municipal councilors Patricio Avenido, Eduardo Gentapa, Mansueto Garcia, Alejo Boniel, Froilan Romo, Rogelio Villarias and Rene Borenaga, who is now the mayor of Bien Unido.
It was found out during the course of the case’s trial that Baruffol was denied a permit as her cockpit arena was located 200 meters away from three public buildings which is prohibited under Presidential Decree No. 449.
BUCA, which was established in the late 1980s, was traced to be within the 200 meter-radius of the Bien Unido Police Station, Atty. Felix Garcia Gymnasium, and the Poblacion Barangay Hall.
Buraffol said that she only found out that the three public buildings were to be erected when construction started. She made no effort to relocate as she insisted that she had been advised by former mayors Felix Garcia and Marianita Garcia that it was a non-issue given that BUCA was built before the public structures were erected.
However, the decision stated that the continued operation of BUCA at the location violated existing laws and that the denial in the issuance of a permit was carried out with basis.
“The mere tolerance of former local chief executives of BUCA’s operation does not place BUCA beyond the ambit of the law,” the anti-graft court said in its decision.
The decision also stated that BUCA did not meet sanitation requirements and building safety standards as attested by municipal health officer Dr. Dennis Lua and municipal engineer Diosdada Garcia, respectively, who were both witnesses for the prosecution.
In 2016, the Sandiganbayan ordered the suspension of Boniel who was then already a Provincial Board member, and his co-accused for 90 days pending their graft trial.
Boniel made headlines again in 2017 after he was accused of killing his wife, former Bien Unido mayor Gisela Bendong Boniel, and dumping her body in waters off Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. Her remains have yet to be found.
Boniel was charged with parricide before a Lapu-Lapu City court. Kidnapping and serious illegal detention complaints were also filed against him at a Talibon regional trial court after he allegedly held Angela Leyson, Gisela’s close friend, and her son against their will inside a resort in Bien Unido. (RT)