CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – With a string of administrative cases already dismissed by the Court of Appeals, incumbent City Mayor Oscar Moreno and his co-accused are optimistic that they can hurdle the same charges being heard at the Sandiganbayan.
The criminal cases, filed in 2016, stemmed from a complaint filed against Moreno, who was then the governor of Misamis Oriental, when he ordered the rental of heavy equipment amounting to about P15 million between 2007 to 2012.
Moreno is seeking for the gubernatorial seat in the 2022 elections.
Reports said the accuser, engineer Antonio Nuñez, alleged that Moreno and two members of the provincial bids and awards committee (PBAC) committed an irregularity when they approved the rental of heavy equipment through negotiated procurement and small-value purchases, which the Ombudsman tagged as a violation of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Facing the charges with Moreno are former PBAC members Rolando Pacuribot and Cancio Nicanor Guibone.
Moreno and Pacuribot have been charged with 16 counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and falsification of public documents as provided under the Revised Penal Code.
Guibone, meanwhile, was co-accused in one of the anti-graft cases.
The anti-graft court’s Second Division issued a resolution denying Moreno’s motion to file a demurrer to evidence on November 22.
A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss on the ground of insufficiency of evidence.
According to the Sandiganbayan, it is a remedy available to the defendant, to the effect that the evidence produced by the plaintiff is insufficient in point of law, whether true or not, to make a case or sustain an issue.
In a press statement released to the media on November 24, Moreno’s legal team said the mayor and his co-defendants are ready to present pieces of evidence to prove their innocence on the cases in the Sandiganbayan.
“This recent turn of events is not unexpected. It is a foreseeable outcome of regular and ordinary judicial proceedings, which concomitantly comes with a plethora of opportunities for different courses of legal action,” said lawyer Dale Bryan Mordeno, Moreno’s head legal counsel.
Mordeno said they received the resolution of the Second Division of Sandiganbayan, dated November 22, 2021.
“Ultimately, with the denial of our ‘Motion for Leave of Court to file Demurrer to Evidence,’ the time for us to present our evidence becomes certain. And when we do, the truth remains to be the strongest arsenal in our favor,” he pointed out.
He added it is a matter of time for the anti-graft court to dismiss the criminal cases against Moreno and key officials of the Capitol when he was governor.
Mordeno said the facts and circumstances of the cases are the same with administrative cases which were already overturned by the Court of Appeals in July 2019.
“Nonetheless,” he said, “we remain poised to exhaust all the legal remedies that are available for us to utilize.”
“The Ombudsman even failed to prove guilt based on a lighter requirement of proof which is substantial evidence in the administrative aspect of this legal action, how much more for the criminal cases which would require evidence of guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Mordeno explained.
The Court of Appeals, in a 33-page decision signed by Associate Justices Victoria Isabel Paredes, Marlene Gonzales Sison, and Maria Elisa Sempio Diy, dismissed all the administrative cases related to the equipment rentals saying the Ombudsman failed “to show convincing proof that Oscar Moreno, when he was governor of Misamis Oriental, did wrong in approving the rental of heavy equipment for road repairs.”
The CA further chided the Ombudsman after it “acted with grave abuse of discretion in relying only on the audit findings as if the findings were conclusive. The Ombudsman should have conducted its own investigation.”