MANILA – Mayor Alex Centena of Calinog, Iloilo and seven other municipal officials have pleaded guilty before the Sandiganbayan over their alleged anomalous purchase of liquid fertilizers in 2004.
The court’s Seventh Division said Centena and the other town officials opted to re-enter the plea so that their graft charge be reduced to “failure of accountable officer to render accounts” under Article 218 of the Revised Penal Code.
The Sandiganbayan on March 6 slapped Centena and the seven others with a 90-day preventive suspension following a complaint filed against them by Task Force Abono of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The task force accused the municipal officials of dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service in relation to the purchase of 666 bottles of Bio Nature Liquid Fertilizers worth P1,500 each from Feshan Philippines, Inc.
The purchase, according to the complaint, was conducted without public bidding.
Initially, Centena and his co-accused – Valentin Sobretodo, municipal treasurer; Meriam Celeste, acting municipal accountant; Crispino Castro, municipal agriculturist; Jose Rex Casipe, municipal supply officer; Melanie Hilario, acting municipal administrator and also a Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) member; Rhoda Lyn Panizales, municipal planning and Development Officer and BAC member; Jose Edeso Enriquez, municipal engineer and BAC member; and Anna Lerio Caspillo, Sangguniang Bayan secretary and BAC member – filed a motion to junk the case, which the Sandiganbayan denied.
They then pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on April 16, 2018 – except Centena, who refused to enter a plea.
But as the preliminary conference was ongoing, all the eight accused said they wanted to enter into a plea bargain agreement.
Since they “fully understood the nature and consequence of their change of plea,” the Sandiganbayan on April 11 sentenced Centena and the seven others to pay a P5,000 fine each.
They were also ordered to pay back the local government unit P999,000 which is the total amount they paid for the fertilizers.
“The accused are directed to pay the same within 10 days from promulgation of judgment as part of the plea bargaining agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman,” Sandiganbayan’s resolution read./PN