Saturday, 7 July 2007

Assistant city prosecutor gets 12 years for graft

By Sandy Araneta
Original report at the Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.com/index.php?Headlines&p=49&type=2&sec=24&aid=2007070698

[We include this article to show how the fight against graft is gaining ground. --Blogger ed.]

For receiving P10,000 from a litigant, an assistant city prosecutor of Manila was convicted of graft and indirect bribery yesterday by the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division and sentenced to a maximum total of 12 years in prison.

In a 47-page decision, the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division said prosecutor Constancio Velasco was found guilty of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

He was sentenced to imprisonment of at least six years and one month to eight years and perpetually barred from holding public office. He was likewise ordered to pay the cost of the suit.

Velasco was also found guilty of indirect bribery and sentenced to one year and eight months up to four years and nine months in prison.

Velasco has a pending criminal case of oral defamation filed by Benito against spouses Eduardo and Clarissa Magbitang.

Benito said she filed a complaint for oral defamation against the Magbitangs at the prosecutor’s office in the Manila City Hall on July 23, 2001.

During a hearing on Aug. 14, 2001, the legal counsel of the Magbitangs filed a “Motion to Dismiss” the complaint.

Velasco gave Benito a chance to file her comment.

On Sept. 5, 2001, she returned to the prosecutor’s office to file her comment. This time Velasco handed her a piece of paper on which he had written the amount of P5,000.

Benito asked the prosecutor if that was for a penalty for the complaint filed. But Velasco said it was meant as “grease money”: “Hindi. Para sa akin ‘yan, para iakyat ko ang kaso mo sa korte.” (No, that is for me, so I will elevate the case to the courts.)

A month later, Benito decided to ask the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which planned an entrapment.

During the entrapment, Velasco was caught red-handed by the NBI receiving the P5,000 from Benito at the noodle restaurant.

In Cebu City, Chief Justice Reynato Puno ordered the preventive suspension of four Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) judges pending investigation of their alleged involvement in the irregular solemnization of marriages.

Acting on the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator, Puno also ordered the immediate filing of administrative charges for corruption, dishonesty, gross ignorance of the law, and deliberate violation of the law on marriage against MTCC Judges Anatalio S. Necesario (Branch 2), Gil R. Acosta (Branch 3), Rosabella M. Tormis (Branch 4), and Edgemelo C. Rosales (Branch 8).

Puno ordered the preventive suspension following reports that certain courts in Cebu City conduct marriages with undue haste and for an amount higher than the prescribed P300 marriage fee.

Members of the religious community, business community, diplomatic corps, and cause-oriented groups personally informed Puno of the alleged irregular activities when he attended the First Distinguished Lecture, Series of 2007 held in Cebu last June 29.

That same day, before flying back to Manila, Puno held an impromptu dialogue with the judges to look into the allegations.

Last Monday, Puno sent a judicial audit team, led by the Office of the Court Administrator Judicial Supervisor for Region VII, Rullyn Garcia, to conduct an investigation.

The team in particular investigated Cebu City MTCC Branches 2, 3, 4, 8, and the Regional Trial Court branch 24, as well as their respective offices of the clerks of court.

Investigation showed that of the 643 marriage certifications actually examined, Necesario solemnized 92 marriages under Article 34 of the Family Code from 2005 to 2007; Acosta solemnized 67 marriages from 2003 to 2007; Tormis, 73 marriages from 2005 to 2007; and Rosales, 48 marriages from 2006 to 2007, or a total of 280 marriages.

However, such figures did not accurately reflect the actual number of marriages solemnized by the four judges during the period, as the number of marriages listed in the logbooks for marriages was higher than the number of marriage certificates actually examined.

The investigation team also found out that there were marriage licenses obtained from the local civil registrar at a location where neither of the contracting parties were residents.

In addition, there were also discrepancies in the signatures of the local civil registrars of Barili and Liloan, appearing in the different marriage licenses purportedly obtained from their respective offices. This suggested that the signatures of local civil registrars were forged.

The Office of the Court Administrator added that there were also marriages that were solemnized without the supporting documents like marriage licenses, certificates of legal capacity with respect to foreigners or joint affidavits of cohabitation.

There were also some marriages that were solemnized without proof of payment of the required fee.

Copies of the marriage certificates and other supporting documents for marriages solemnized by the judges concerned were found in the custody of other courts than their own.

Documents, including logbooks for marriages, invariably show the names of court employees who have been identified as “fixers” or “facilitators” for marriages as well as the names of “runners” or “assistants” who facilitate the application for marriage license.

There were also affidavits confirming that there were “package fees” for marriage solemnization that ranged from P1,500 to P15,000.

“Undeniably, Judges Necesario, Acosta, Rosales, and Tormis abused their authority to solemnize marriage, thereby making a mockery of the sanctity of marriage,” the investigation report of the Office of the Court Administrator stated. — with Mike Frialde

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