By Michael Punongbayan, March 27 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has sentenced a former mayor of Claveria town in Misamis Oriental to up to 120 years in prison over questionable transactions during his term.

Antonio Calingin, who was found guilty of 15 counts of graft, was also perpetually disqualified from holding public office and ordered to pay a fine of P6.5 million.

Calingin’s co-accused former municipal accountant Estrella Ballescas was found guilty of nine counts of graft and sentenced to a minimum of 54 and maximum of 72 years in prison.

Former municipal engineer Renato Quiblat was convicted of two counts and will spend up to 16 years in prison.

A majority of the anomalous transactions involved the release of public funds for the Balay Ticala housing project in 1995 and 1996.

The Sandiganbayan said various contractors were paid for “ghost” or inexistent services.

“The… acts of Calingin and Ballescas contributed in… defrauding government coffers. Without their… signatures on the vouchers, the unlawful disbursements could not have been made,” the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division ruling dated March 22 read.

“Since they both contributed to attain the end goal, it can be concluded that their acts… prove the existence of conspiracy,” the anti-graft court said.

Abra mayor, vice mayor suspended

Meanwhile, Malacañang affirmed the suspension of Mayor Jendricks Luna and his wife Vice Mayor Joy Chrisma of Lagayan, Abra for dishonesty and grave misconduct in connection with an unfinished road project.

The provincial board approved a resolution suspending the couple last Dec. 6.

President Duterte through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the prohibition on suspensions during elections does not apply in the case of the couple, noting that it was issued before the start of the poll period.

Malacañang ordered the immediate implementation of the suspension order, citing the seriousness of the allegations.

The couple petitioned the Office of the President not to implement their suspension, citing an administrative order issued by former president Benigno Aquino III allowing Malacañang to stay a suspension order for 60 days.

The case stemmed from an unfinished 1,740-meter road in Barangay Ba-i worth P1,071, 850.

Board member Noel Cortez, who filed the complaint, said the project, which was funded by the town’s Internal Revenue Allotment, has remained a pebble and dirt road. – With Artemio Dumlao