Cam Norte ex mayor acquitted of graft

MANILA (Bicol Standard) – Former Mercedes, Camarines Norte town mayor Pepito Pajarillo Lo has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division in the anti-graft charge filed against him in connection with the development of the Colasi Falls area for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Lo was accused to have taken advantage of his position and showing manifest partiality and preference by giving unwarranted benefits to Colasi Mini-Hydro Electric Power Corporation, by entering into a Memorandum of Agreement with the same, granting exclusive right, with right of first refusal, to explore, develop, and utilize the Colasi Falls area, sans any competitive bidding.

Along with Lo, accused were Jane Solitario Caras and Jimmy Calica Solitario, who are the two incorporators of Colasi Mini-Hydro Electric Power Corporation and are siblings of Lo’s wife, Brenda Solitario Lo.

In its discussion, the Sandiganbayan said the prosecution imputes manifest partiality against accused Lo, implying that he disregarded the requirements of competitive bidding provided under R. A. No. 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) and entered into a MOA with Colasi Power Corporation because he favored the latter, considering that two (2) of its incorporators - accused Caras and Solitario - are his wife's siblings.

However, after a review of the records, the Court found no evidence to support the prosecution's assertion.

“To note, although accused Caras and Solitario remain listed in the Articles of Incorporation (AOI) as incorporators, the GIS confirms that they are no longer stockholders or officers of the said corporation. In fact, the prosecution, being a party to the joint stipulations submitted in court, acknowledges that accused Caras and Solitario were neither stockholders nor officers of Colasi Power Corporation at the time of the execution of the assailed MOA on 10 March 2009, since they had sold and transferred their respective shares therein to Eduardo Malasaga on 19 December 2005. This admission effectively weakens the prosecution's argument as it contradicts the corrupt intent ascribed against accused Lo that he was motivated to enter into a contract with Colasi Power Corporation solely for the reason that he was related by affinity to two (2) of its incorporators,” the decision reads.

“A reading of the joint stipulations reveals that prior to the execution of the MOA, accused Lo had been authorized by the Sangguniang Bayan of Mercedes, Camarines Norte to solicit and negotiate with any government agency or prospective investors for the development of the Colasi water falls into a hydro power plant,” it continues.

“Armed with such authorization, accused Lo, in his capacity as mayor, subsequently entered into a MOA with Colasi Power Corporation, without the benefit of public bidding. In addition to these uncontroverted statements, other evidence on record indicates that Colasi Power Corporation is a logical choice on account of its water permit, which allows it to utilize the water at the Colasi Falls area. Taken together, all these exculpatory facts diminish the prosecution's claim that accused Lo acted with manifest partiality when he executed the MOA with Colasi Power Corporation,” the court explained.

Finally, the court said: “As the act or omission from which the civil liability might arise did not exist, no civil liability may be assessed against the accused. The hold departure order issued against all of the accused by reason of this case is hereby LIFTED and SET ASIDE, and their respective bonds RELEASED, subject to the usual accounting and auditing procedures.”

Associate Justice Reynaldo P. Cruz signed the 13-page decision, with Associate Justice Alex L. Quiroz and Associate Justice Bayani H. Jacinto concurring.