The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan acquitted Loboc Mayor Leon Calipusan of graft and corruption charges involving the construction and operation of a zipline which forms part of eco-tourism projects of the municipality.
“It must be stressed that the construction of the zipline in issue was not a personal business venture of the accused [xxx]. It was part of the eco-tourism project of the SB of the Municipality of Loboc, Bohol in order to boost further the tourism program and development of the municipality,” the graft court’s Special Third Division said in its decision dated September 6, 2019.
The decision, penned by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, acquitted Calipusan of charges for violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, due to the prosecution’s failure to prove his guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
“The prosecution evidence likewise shows that the undated operating agreement between Edwin Sacdalan and the accused, who acted on behalf of the Municipality of Loboc, Bohol, which provided the terms of sharing of the profits and losses between the contracting parties, was ratified by the SB in its Resolution No. 17 s. 2010. Thus, any
benefits received by the Municipality of Loboc, Bohol and Edwin Sacdalan from the proceeds of the operation of the subject zip-line pursuant to their operating agreement bore the imprimatur of the SB of Loboc,” the ruling said.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed at the Ombudsman by Estela Sumampong-Requierme, representing the heirs of Epitacio Tanzo, who owns the parcel of land on which the zip-line was constructed and now being operated by the municipality and Sacdalan.
According to the charge sheet filed by the Ombudsman at the Sandiganbayan, Calipusan, being the mayor at the time, committed graft and corruption in constructing and operating the zip-line without the knowledge and consent of the heirs of Tanzo, and consequently depriving said heirs of their rights of ownership over the said property and the beneficial use thereof, thereby causing undue injury to them in the amount of P475,475.00, which is the zonal valuation of said property.
The charge sheet further alleged that Calipusan also gave unwarranted benefits to the municipality and the zip-line’s contractor Sacdalan in the form of income from their joint venture in the total amount of P1,382,500.00, covering the period of May 23 to September 30, 2010.
In its 59-page decision, the graft court found that Calipusan did not act with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence, which are essential elements in the finding of guilt for the offense charged.
Evidence culled during trial shows that the construction of the zip-line was not initiated by Calipusan as the initiative came from the members of the SB when they unanimously adopted Resolution No. 28-2010 on March 10, 2010, which set aside an amount of P3.290 million for the construction of a zip-line project, cable car and trekking as part of the municipality’s eco-tourism projects.
Moreover, the Sandiganbayan also finds the operating agreement entered into by Calipusan with private contractor Sacdalan to be in order as it went through the bids and awards committee (BAC) of Loboc which passed a resolution recommending a negotiated procurement on the acquisition of a zip-line facility in favor of Sacdalan.
The same BAC resolution declared that Sacdalan “satisfied the minimum financial, technical, organization and legal standards” of the procurement law. The SB also ratified the operating agreement, the ruling said.
It was also established during trial that when Calipusan was informed by the lawyer of Requierme that a portion of the zip-line was constructed on the lot of the heirs of Tanzo, the SB passed another resolution dated September 24, 2010 formally offering to buy the subject lot from the said heirs at the rate of P20.00 per square meter.
The offer was relayed by Calipusan to the heirs through a letter dated September 27, 2010.
In fact, during her testimony, Requierme also admitted to the graft court that Calipusan allowed her brother, Glenn Kirby Sumampong, to work as a watch-man at the zip-line facility as a “form of lease” of the municipality on their property.
The Sandiganbayan added that the facts established during trial “do not show that Calipusan operated with a furtive design to serve a self-interest or had any ulterior purposes” when he approved the zip-line project.
Moreover, the ruling said, Calipusan appears to have no prior knowledge of the claim of ownership by the heirs of Tanzos over the subject land.
“This prior knowledge is decisive because it is required that the accused must have been consciously indifferent to the consequences of his act insofar as the heirs of Tanzo are concerned. In other words, the alleged deprivation of the rights of said heirs over the subject land must have been deliberately made by the accused.”
In its decision, the anti-graft court ordered the lifting of the Hold Departure Order issued against Calipusan and the release of the bail bond which the former mayor posted for his temporary liberty.