NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed a criminal complaint against Jagna Mayor Joseph Rañola for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
In a 14-page Joint Resolution, the Ombudsman found no probable cause to indict the respondent mayor for the criminal charges while also dismissing the accompanying administrative case for abuse of authority, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for lack of substantial evidence.
The complaint, which was filed on April 16, 2021, by former Jagna Vice Mayor Theodore R. Abrenilla, and municipal councilors Leonardo A. Ocio Jr., Maricris V. Jamora, Arnold D. Pielago and Pacheco L. Rances.
Guzman E. Olaer and Ramonito P. Macas, accused Rañola for violations of Section 3(e), (g) and (j) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Usurpation of Legislative Powers, a violation under Article 239 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) for allegedly entering into a lease contract on behalf of the LGU of Jagna, Bohol, with The Buzzz Café Franchising Corp. without an ordinance granting the respondent mayor such authority.
In his Counter-Affidavit, Mayor Rañola claimed that contrary to complainants’ assertions, “there is an existing ordinance, the Market Code for this matter, authorizing the local chief executive to enter into a Contract of Lease over vacant stalls and areas in the Jagna Business Center.”
Rañola argued that among those who enacted the Market Code of 2016 were complainants SB Members Jamora, Pielago and Ocio Jr. themselves.
Respondent further asserted in his counter-affidavit that the execution of the subject Contract of Lease was approved by the Market Board in a meeting attended by two of the complainants, SB Members Pielago and Rances, who categorically manifested their agreement to said contract.
The Ombudsman ruled in favor of Rañola stating that the Market Code is in fact “the prior authorization by the Sanggunian” as required under Section 22 (g) of the Local Government Code.
The Ombudsman also did not find that Rañola acted with manifest partiality, or there was evidence of bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence by entering into a lease contract with The Buzzz as the same was done only after favorable action by the Market Board on Bohol Bee Farm’s letter of intent.
Likewise, the Ombudsman said no undue injury to the government has been established as the rental rate of ₱25,000 was in accordance with the Market Code and unanimously decided upon by the Board.
In the same joint resolution, the anti-graft body stated that there was no evidence that unwarranted benefit, advantage, or preference has been granted to Bohol Bee Farm as there is in fact no evidence that the latter was unduly favored as against other potential applicants for the same market space.
The ruling further stated that there is also no basis to indict respondent-mayor under Section 3(g) of RA 3019 as the complainants failed to show that the rental rate of ₱25,000 is manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to LGU Jagna.
As for Section 3(j), the Ombudsman’s ruling explained that Rañola’s act of entering into a lease contract pursuant to the Board’s adjudication of a market stall application cannot be considered as “knowingly approving or granting any license, permit, privilege or benefit” to fall under the said provision.
The charge of Usurpation of Legislative Powers is similarly inapplicable in this case as the respondent neither made general rules or regulations beyond the scope of his authority nor did he attempt to repeal a law or suspend its execution, the joint resolution stated.
Rañola was charged with administrative offenses for Abuse of Authority, Grave Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service but after having established that the Market Code authorizes the mayor in his capacity as Chairman of the JBC Board to enter into lease contracts with successful applicants for market stalls, the simple act of entering into a lease contract with The Buzzz cannot make him liable for any of said offenses.