Following Sandigan conviction: Loot seeking retrial of cases
CEBU, Philippines — Former Daanbantayan mayor Maria Luisa Loot is seeking retrial in the graft and malversation cases she and former councilor Samuel Moralde were convicted for awarding a loan amounting to P500,000 to an unqualified organization in 2007.
Loot’s lawyer, Neil Aaron Balili, told The Freeman they have asked the court to re-open the case.
“The Sandiganbayan passed upon crucial pieces of evidence which if carefully evaluated and testified to in court would have the strong potency to change the result of the case,” Balili said.
In a decision promulgated on August 2, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division convicted Loot and Moralde for violating Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and for malversation of public funds under the Revised Penal Code.
They were sentenced to six to eight years imprisonment for the graft offense and to two to seven years imprisonment for the malversation offense.
The court also disqualified them perpetually from holding public office and directed them to pay Daanbantayan P500,000, which is equivalent to the amount they malversed.
But Balili said they weren’t able to present crucial evidence during the trial stage because they had difficulty finding them as Daanbantayan has just started to recover from the devastation of super typhoon Yolanda in 2013 when the trial began in 2015.
“It was only just recently that we recovered material pieces of evidence… while we disagree with the decision of conviction, we respect the Sandiganbayan but nevertheless, we are preparing a new set of evidence,” Balili said further.
Among the evidence they want to present to court this time around, he said, are documents that would prove that the town monitored the activities of RBA Quail Raisers Association back in 2007.
Atty. Balili says these documents will prove Loot’s defense that she exercised her duties and responsibilities under the Memorandum of Agreement with RBA Quail Raisers.
He also said that through SB Resolution 2007-48 passed on February 22, 2007, the town’s Council gave Loot the authority to enter the MOA on February 28, 2007 with RBA Quail Raisers.
Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in April 2018, the cases against Loot and Moralde stemmed from the grant of loan to private organization RBA Quail Raisers Association (RBA) in which Moralde was then chairman.
The Ombudsman said Loot, on behalf of the municipal government, entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with RBA on February 28, 2007 granting the organization a loan of P500,000 to finance its quail egg farming operation purportedly as part of the local government’s livelihood project.
The problem, the Ombudsman said, was that Loot signed the MOA without approval from the Municipal Council. RBA was also not an accredited organization at that time.
The Ombudsman said Loot and Moralde also failed to comply with the conditions in the MOA such as the conduct of periodic monitoring and evaluation to ascertain the actual implementation of the project.
The Ombudsman also said that the loan remains unpaid and Moralde failed to submit “evidence showing that the public fund was used for the intended purpose.”
In convicting the accused, the Seventh Division noted that it was only on December 19, 2008, during Loot’s term as vice mayor, that she issued a certificate of accreditation to RBA, more than one year after the MOA for the loan grant was executed on February 28, 2007.
The court said the award of a project to an unaccredited organization was a clear violation of the Commission on Audit rules.
The court said further that the Ombudsman’s prosecution panel was able to establish that the loan grant did not have the approval of the municipal council.
“There is no showing that the Sanggunian ratified the MOA either expressly or impliedly,” the court said.
The court said Loot also failed to present any counter-evidence that would disprove the Ombudsman’s allegation.
The court said that while Moralde insisted that the fund was used to buy quail chicks and feeds and to defray RBA’s operating expenses, no document was presented to support this claim.
Lastly, the court said Loot failed to initiate any action even if no payment was made since January 2008, which was the start of the amortization schedule for the loan.
“She [Loot] also did not demand payment or file any criminal or civil case against Moralde. Accused’s continued failure to comply with their respective duties and responsibilities provided in the agreement demonstrate unity of the objective thereby causing undue injury to the government,” the court said.
Loot is the wife of former Daanbantayan mayor Vicente Loot, a retired police chief superintendent who was previously tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the police generals protecting big-time drug lords.
Vicente has denied the allegation repeatedly. – Philippine Star News Service