Sandigan clears ex-town mayor

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Sandigan clears ex-town mayor

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The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division, moved by the “pure compassion and benevolence” of the accused and convinced by the “candid and congruent testimonies” of the witnesses, acquitted former Sagbayan Mayor Jimmy Torrefranca for violation of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The graft court agreed with Torrefranca that the purchase of the assailed property while still under a 10-year lease agreement was borne “purely out of pity for the ailing daughter of the lot owner and whatever gain the then mayor gained as the new owner of the leased property “is at best speculative.”

The 20-page decision promulgated on March 23, 2017 said that “the prosecution dismally failed” to prove the guilt of Torrefranca beyond a reasonable doubt and “the evidence tells a story of a municipal mayor who strove to serve his constituents.”

Torrefranca served as mayor of Sagbayan from 2001 to 2010.

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POLITICAL MOTIVE

Josephine Moreno, the private complainant filed charges against Torrefranca, then the municipal mayor on January 2010 in connection with the purchase of a 3,000 square meter lot which at that time was under a 10-year lease contract (2007-2017) with the municipality of Sagbayan for PhP1,500 a year.

According to Moreno she filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against Torrefranca “because nobody else would dare to” and also disclosed to the graft court that “her motivations to gather these documents was her loss in her bid as Sangguniang Bayan kagawad in 2004, which stirred her interest in politics.”

The Ombudsman found probable cause in the complaint filed by Moreno and elevated the case to the Sandiganbayan accusing Torrefranca of buying the property, in order to “reap economic benefits from the improvements built during the lease, especially when the lease contract expires.” 

COMPASSION

Torrefranca, in his defense, admitted that he reluctantly bought the assailed lot from the owner, 88-year old Justina Mascarinas on January 27, 2010, “out of pity and desire to help” who needed money for her daughter Erlinda’s breast cancer treatment.

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After the purchase of the property by Torrefranca, the municipality used the lot for free despite the remaining seven years of the lease contract, paid the real property taxes and even shouldered the fees for the use of the mechanical dryer placed on the lot that was given by the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the use of the town’s farmers.

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A lease contract was entered into between Justina Mascarinas and the municipality of Sagbayan on May 7, 2007 after the DA offered three mechanical dryers for corn drying on a grant agreement provided a lot will be put in place by the LGU.

Erlinda Mascarinas, the breast cancer patient, and daughter of the owner of the lot, testified before the Sandiganbayan that they were forced to offer for sale their property to the LGU of Sagbayan to defray the cost of their mounting medical bills incurred for her breast operation and chemotherapy sessions.

Since the municipality of Sagbayan will have to undergo a long and tedious process for the purchase of their leased property, the family decided to offer the lot to Torrefranca who initially refused but eventually bought the property for PhP60,000 under the condition that they will no longer accept rentals from the LGU.

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NO EVIDENCE

But the Sandiganbayan was not convinced that Torrefranca had a financial interest from the lease contract by purchasing the leased property as it found the explanations of the nine-year mayor “amply supported by evidence.”

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“Whatever accused Torrefranca stood to gain as owner of the leased property, as suggested by the Prosecution, is at best speculative.”

According to documents submitted as evidence in the graft court, Torrefranca was given authority by the SB to enter into a lease contract for a site to establish two drying facilities as provided in the memorandum of agreement between the DA and the LGU of Sagbayan.

At that time, Sagbayan was awarded the best corn cluster in Region 7 and was granted one mechanical dryer. A flatbed mechanical grain dryer and a village-type corn processing center was eventually erected in the leased property. 

However, the post harvest facilities were damaged during the October 15, 2013 earthquake where the municipality was included in the top five towns in Bohol that was hardest hit.

According to the graft court, the prosecution failed to present evidence that the municipality paid rentals or real estate taxes on the leased property from 2010, when it was purchased by Torrefranca.

The cash bond posted by Torrefranca was ordered released and the Hold Departure Order (HDO) on March 27, 2013 is set aside while the order issued by the Bureau of Immigration incorporating the name of Torrefranca in the HDO was ordered recalled and cancelled by the Sandiganbayan.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta and concurred by Alexander G. Gesmundo, Associate Justice and Chairperson and Zaldy V. Trespeses, Associate Justice.

Torrefranca was assisted by Atty. Eusebio M. Avila of the Avila Tamayo Law Office. (Chito M. Visarra)

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