Ombudsman clears Cua, Laynes in shabu lab case
posted 6-Aug-2018  ·  
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Governor Joseph Cua, Virac Mayor Samuel Laynes and Palta Small barangay chairman Helario Sarmiento have been cleared of graft charges filed against them before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the controversial discovery of the shabu laboratory in November 2016.

In a joint resolution initially rendered in October 2017 and approved by recently retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales only last July 5, 2018, the complaint for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, Grave Misconduct and Gross Neglect of Duty against the three local officials was dismissed for lack of merit.

The complaint was filed in February 2017 by Edralyn Pangilinan, the common-law spouse of slain businessman Larry Que who had implicated the governor in an article of the maiden issue of his newsletter Catanduanes News Now. Que was slain on Dec. 19, 2016 by riding-in-tandem gunmen in front of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

In her complaint-affidavit, Pangilinan claimed that Virac and Palta Small are small geographic units with a relatively small population and as such the local government can easily determine who are engaged in illegal activities.

Thus, she said, Cua, Laynes and Sarmiento caused undue injury to the government by acting with manifest partiality, evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence for allowing the proliferation of dangerous drugs in Catanduanes and the establishment and operation of a drug laboratory in Palta Small. She sought the preventive suspension of the trio pending the resolution of the complaint.

In denying the charges, the respondents explained that they have no knowledge or participation in the construction and operation of the shabu lab or in any other illegal drug activities.

For his part, the governor alleged that Que was not an investigative reporter but a financier for an illegal numbers game who was his political adversary and that he was not yet the governor when the warehouse used as a drug laboratory was constructed.

As governor, Cua stated, the maintenance of peace and order and the prevention and suppression of crimes are only portions of his complex duties and responsibilities. In order to combat drugs in the province, he told the Ombudsman, he implemented the Community-Based Treatment and Rehabilitation Program, offered assistance to the PNP and half-a million peso reward for informants regarding the shabu lab, thus there is no basis to preventively suspend him.

Mayor Laynes attested that the warehouse was constructed before he became mayor, with no complaint lodged before his office regarding its construction, with its existence not common knowledge in the town. He only came to know about it on Nov. 25, 2016 when the PNP sought his assistance to verify if the warehouse was issued any building permit after the police was denied entry into the property.

He informed that when he found out that it was constructed without a permit, he immediately conducted an inspection the next day together with the police, with the occupants already having escaped.

The complaints are based on mere hearsay and unsubstantiated and that he did not assist or facilitate the connection of electrical power to the warehouse because it was beyond the powers of the municipal mayor and that at the time, he was no longer connected to the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO), Laynes stated.

On the other hand, Chairman Sarmiento averred that he cannot be faulted for failing to discover or detect the establishment of the drug laboratory in his barangay because he and the members of his council do not possess any special training and knowledge in determining the existence, establishment and operation of a drug laboratory and that he had no knowledge about the type of equipment used to make illegal drugs. He further claimed that the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over him since he is only holding the position of a barangay chairman.

In the resolution prepared by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Office II Joyrich Golangco, the Ombudsman stressed that it has jurisdiction over Sarmiento because Section 15 of RA 6770 empowers it to investigate and prosecute any public officer or employee or any office or agency in the government regardless of positions they hold or their salary grades.

“On the merits of the complaint, this Office finds no probable cause to indict respondents for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 as amended,” the Ombudsman stated in the resolution reviewed by Director Adoracion Agbada, concurred in by OIC-Assistant Ombudsman Gil Felix Hidalgo, and recommended for approval by Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard Mosquera.

“There is no evidence that respondents acted with manifest partiality, evidence bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence,” it added. “In fact, no evidence was presented showing that respondents had any knowledge or participation in the establishment and operation of the drug laboratory or any illegal drug activity in their respective areas of jurisdiction.”

“On the contrary, respondents were able to rebut complainant’s allegation when they rendered assistance to the PNP’s raid operation and when they undertook activities to curb illegal drug activities in their province such as the implementation of the CBTRP,” the graft investigating body clarified.

“Moreover, complainant failed to present evidence that respondents caused her or the province any undue injury,” it said, pointing out that the law requires that undue injury should be specified, quantified, and proven to the point of moral certainty.

“Considering that there is no evidence that respondents violated any law or were remiss in the performance of their duties, the charges for Grave Misconduct and Gross Neglect of Dity should also fail,” the Ombudsman stressed.

“Respondents cannot be faulted for failing to earlier detect the construction of the drug laboratory since Cua and Laynes assumed office only after the construction of the warehouse used as a drug laboratory,” it underscored. “Further, there is no proof that any of the respondents, especially Sarmiento, possesses any knowledge or expertise in the detection of illegal drug activity.”

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