Tuguegarao mayor Soriano acquitted in graft case over terminal permit

Lian Buan
Tuguegarao mayor Soriano acquitted in graft case over terminal permit

Ramon Dullana

The embattled mayor gets one case off his back, and continues to serve Tuguegarao City despite suspensions and dismissals the past years

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has acquitted Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano of graft in a case that stemmed from the permit he granted a terminal operator.

“Inasmuch as herein accused issued the subject provisional permit devoid of any corrupt nor criminal intent, the court is therefore included to absolve him from any liability as regards the instant criminal charge,” the Sandiganbayan First Division said in a decision dated May 11, but released to media on Monday, May 21.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice  Edgardo Caldona, with concurrences from Associate Justices Efren dela Cruz and Geraldine Faith Econg.

What is the case about? Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales charged Soriano with graft in 2017 over a provisional permit that he issued to  One Way Parking Terminal Incorporated (OWPTI) to operate his city’s terminal.

According to the charge sheet, Soriano committed graft for giving unwarranted benefit to OWPTI by issuing a provisional permit without the required authorization from the city council. (READ: Tuguegarao mayor: How to face cases and stay in office)

What did the court say? According to the first division, Soriano was within authority to provide a provisional permit whose finality would be subject to the approval of the sangguniang panlungsod.

The court recognized the “urgency” of the situation, as Soriano explained that the public transport operators had been illegally parking for many years, and, as such, the local government had not collected taxes and fees. The illegal parking terminals were also causing traffic, he explained.

The council eventually granted the permit application of OWPTI.

“It appears clear that the accused issued the provisional permit before a franchise could be granted in favor of the OWPTI by the Sanggunian on the belief that the matter requires prompt action to address the urgent need to decongest traffic flow within the city. Such act or judgment call, however, must be devoid of any willful intent to commit a criminal act,” the court said.

The court also said there was no evidence to say Soriano handpicked OWPTI, as testimonies showed that transport leaders in Tuguegarao had already negotiated with OWPTI. As for alleged lack of competition, the court said there should be no perception of such because more than one operator can “co-exist” in the terminal.

What does it mean for Soriano? This means Soriano gets one case off his back. It continues his streak of vindication after the Court of Appeals (CA) reinstated him in September 2017.

Morales had earlier dismissed him from office over the parking terminal graft charge.

Before this graft charge, Soriano had battled another graft case that stemmed from his granting of special permits to stalls operators during a local fiesta. This case is still on trial.

Soriano had also been suspended over graft charges related to the high-profile Philippine National Police (PNP) cases involving the alleged anomalous purchases of rubber boats and choppers. These cases are also still on trial.

Soriano was the PNP’s deputy chief for operations. Throughout his suspensions and dismissal, he had gotten favorable reversals from the Court of Appeals, which allowed him to continue serving as mayor of Tuguegarao City. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.