Culasi mayor cleared of graft raps

By: Gerome Dalipe

THE Sandiganbayan has cleared Mayor Joel Lomugdang of Culasi town in Antique of grave misconduct charges over the allegedly anomalous purchase of supplies for the municipal public market office worth P9.862M in 2010.

The anti-graft court’s 2nd Division found Lomugdang not guilty of complaint for violation of Sec. 3(h) of Republic Act (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

“In other words, accused mayor’s participation in the whole transaction was certainly not the actual and direct participation that would render him liable of the Anti Graft Law,” read the Sandiganbayan’s ruling.

In a 10-page resolution, Assistant Special Prosecutor Anna Isabel Aurellano found Lomugdang guilty of grave misconduct for the procurement of supplies for the municipal public market office from a supplier that has been indebted to the mayor.

A check amounting to P9.862M paid by the municipal government to NK Enterprises was endorsed and deposited to the bank account of YL Trading, which is owned by the mayor and his wife Cecilia Yap-Lomugdang.

The couple admitted that several other checks issued by the municipality to NK Enterprises were eventually deposited in the account, the ombudsman said.

Lomugdang said there were in payment for a P10-million loan of Nestor Kho Yute, owner of NK Enterprises, contracted on Jan. 18, 2010.

He denied any irregularities, insisting that the procurement was done in good faith and followed procedures.

But the Ombudsman said the “creditor-debtor relationship necessary makes respondent Lomugdang financially interested in the (debtor’s) business and financial transactions….”

Lomugdang also “intervened” in the procurement process by signing purchase request, purchase order and issued the check, according to the resolution.

The Ombudsman also found probable cause to indict the mayor for criminal charges in violation of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

In the decision, the anti-graft court ruled the prosecution failed to establish the guilt of Lomugdang beyond a reasonable doubt.

“In the instant case, the prosecution failed to prove the presence of the actual intervention of the accused in his official capacity as mayor in the purchase of supplies and materials for the public market from NK Enterprises where he has an alleged indirect pecuniary interest” read the Sandiganbayan’s ruling.

The purchase of the supplies for the public market has complied with the implementing rules and regulations of the Government Procurement Reform Act.

“It was not proven that such procurement procedures were manipulated by the accused in order to benefit NK Enterprises because he was its creditor,” the Sandiganbayan said.

Since NK Enterprises submitted the lowest price bid among the three participants, the anti-graft court said there was no proof that Lomugdang “went an extra mile” to corner the transaction.

“Inevitably, the accused’s constitutional right of presumption of innocence until the contrary is proved has not been overcome,” the ruling read.