REPRESENTATIVE Rodrigo “Bebot” Abellanosa (Cebu City South District) was cleared of graft charges by the Sandiganbayan, in connection with the Cebu City government’s scholarship program using a school that he owned.
“Thank you for all your prayers,” he posted in his Facebook page after receiving the order from the Sandiganbayan dismissing the graft case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against him.
“The Sandiganbayan dismissed the criminal case filed by the Ombudsman against me. The graft court has concluded that ‘the facts charged in the information do not constitute an offense.’ We and our best intentions for the city scholars and their parents are vindicated from the exaggerated and lopsided accounts of political opponents and lapdogs of politically influenced media,” his post read.
The charge against Abellanosa stemmed from the passage of a resolution by the City Council, when he was still a councilor of Cebu City, authorizing then Mayor Michael Rama to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with Asian College of Technology International Educational Foundation (ACTIEF), a school that he owns, for the city’s scholarship program.
In filing the criminal complaint against Abellanosa for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Ombudsman alleged that the former city councilor had a “material interest” when he approved the resolution because of his ownership of the school.
Abellanosa moved to have the complaint quashed, citing that the passing of the resolution did not constitute an offense and that the resolution “was a mere authority granted to the mayor and that the operative transaction or act ultimately fell on the latter.”
But the Ombudsman contended that Abellanosa’s arguments regarding the passage of the resolution as not constituting sufficient basis to prosecute the act or that it was just a mere expression of sentiment or opinion on the part of the Sanggunian were “evidentiary matters that need to be proved in a full-blown trial.”
The first division of Sandiganbayan, in a resolution promulgated last January 27, 2017, held that the act of passing the resolution is not considered a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“Hence, this court is of the view that the passage of the subject resolution cannot be considered as a transaction or act as contemplated under Section 3(i) of RA 3019,” the Sandiganbayan held. “Moreover, this court finds that the Sanggunian in passing the said resolution merely expressed a sentiment or opinion and did not exercise discretion.”
It said that it was the Office of the City Mayor that determines which school will be accredited and the one responsible for “all matters relating to the Cebu City Scholarship Program.”
“Indeed, there was nothing left for the Sanggunian to decide on with respect to the said scholarship program,” the resolution partly read.
The Sandiganbayan also lifted the hold-departure order that it issued against Abellanosa and released the bond that he had posted for his provisional liberty when the case was still pending.