Cagayan de Oro City

Sandiganbayan clears former Cagayan de Oro mayor in equipment lease rigging cases

Froilan Gallardo

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Sandiganbayan clears former Cagayan de Oro mayor in equipment lease rigging cases

ACQUITTED. Former Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno (right) and his lawyer Katrina Mordeno celebrate in Cagayan de Oro after being acquitted of 11 graft cases and three falsification cases by the Sandiganbayan on Friday, November 24.

Froilan Gallardo/Rappler

The anti-graft court also acquits seven other former officials of the Misamis Oriental capitol, and lifts the hold-departure orders against them

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan acquitted former Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno and seven others of 11 counts of graft and falsification charges related to the rental of heavy equipment during his tenure as governor of Misamis Oriental from 2007 to 2011.

In an 81-page decision on Friday, November 24, Associate Justice Oscar Herrera Jr., the chair of the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division, cleared Moreno and his co-accused of eight counts of violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and three counts of falsification of public documents under the Revised Penal Code.

Associated Justices Caldona and Arthur Malabaguio concurred with the ruling.

The decision was announced with Moreno and his co-accused present at the Sandiganbayan’s Centennial Building in Quezon City.

The court ruled that the prosecution failed to establish Moreno’s guilt based on allegations in a report of the Commission on Audit (COA), which conducted a special investigation into the rentals of heavy equipment, including an excavator and a trailer truck, in Misamis Oriental.

Based on the COA special audit team’s report, the heavy equipment rentals by the provincial capitol when Moreno was Misamis Oriental’s governor was considered rigged due to the denial of participation by some suppliers in the canvas for price quotations.

“When the guilt of the accused has not been proven with moral certainty, it is our policy of longstanding that the presumption of innocence of the accused must be favored, and his exoneration be granted as a matter of right,” read part of the Sandiganbayan ruling.

The Sandiganbayan also ordered the lifting of hold-departure orders against the former mayor and his co-accused, along with the return of their respective cash bonds.

Negotiated contracts

In 2016, an engineer, Antonio Nuñez, filed a complaint accusing Moreno and other capitol officials before the Office of the Ombudsman of illegal use of around P15 million in provincial capitol funds. 

Based on the complaint, they allegedly did this through numerous negotiated procurement and small-value purchase deals when Moreno was the governor of Misamis Oriental. 

The deals were related to leasing heavy equipment for a road project in Lantad, an outlying village in Balingasag town known as a training ground for the New People’s Army (NPA) in the 1980s.

Nuñez had alleged that the deals were made without going through proper bidding, constituting violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Cleared by CA earlier

In 2019, however, the Court of Appeals (CA) dismissed 24 administrative cases against Moreno and his co-accused, which involved serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of public service.

The cases trashed by the Sandiganbayan on Friday were the criminal aspect but were essentially the same as the previously dismissed administrative cases.

Moreno was ecstatic upon hearing the anti-graft court’s decision, which cleared him, former provincial government Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) chairman and provincial legal officer Cancio Guibone, former provincial budget officer Elmer Wabe, and former provincial administrator Patrick Gabutina.

The court also acquitted other former BAC members: former assistant provincial engineer Rolando Pacuribot, former provincial agriculturist Danilo Maputol, former provincial general services officer Elsie Lopoy, and administrative aide Leemar Tinagan.

“The period of political vendetta has ended. It was a very painful experience,” Moreno said during a news conference in Cagayan de Oro.

He has long maintained that the cases filed against him during his governorship were politically motivated.

Moreno said he was surprised at the filing of the graft and falsification cases, adding that he was even unaware of the special team from the COA investigating the capitol’s equipment rentals at that time.

He said he had also resented that the COA did not make an effort to properly hear their side even after the special audit team concluded its investigation. –

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