Jul 20, 2021 @ 16:54

Mejorada loses again: CA absolves Mabilog in ill-gotten wealth case, says Ombudsman ignored evidence

The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed the lifetime ban of former Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog from public office, as it absolved him in an administrative case concerning allegations of ill-gotten wealth hurled by fugitive libel convict Manuel Mejorada and called out the Ombudsman for ignoring evidence that explained the net worth increase.

In a 22-page decision on CA-G.R. SP No. 11660, the CA 19th Division granted Mabilog’s petition questioning the Ombudsman’s August 29, 2017 decision and February 8, 2018 order that found him guilty of serious dishonesty.

The Ombudsman, acting on a complaint by Mejorada, found that Mabilog failed to explain how his net worth grew by P8.98 million between 2012 and 2013. It held that Mabilog failed to show proof of his wife’s huge income as a corporate comptroller in Canada, and the income of the business interests he disclosed in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs).

When Mabilog filed his motion for reconsideration (MR), he submitted to the Ombudsman his wife’s tax returns for the year 2013. However, the Ombudsman refusted to recognize the document that would explain the increase in wealth, citing lack of authentication.

The CA disagreed with this finding and said there was “no plausible explanation” to ignore the 2013 tax returns, because the Ombudsman also considered the other pieces of evidence that were not differently situated.

The court also noted that the 2013 tax returns were accompanied by an affidavit of attestation executed by Mabilog’s wife and a certificate of authentication issued by the Philippine vice-consul in Canada.

Even if there were defects regarding authentication, the CA reminded the Ombudsman that administrative agencies “are not bound by the technical rules of procedure.”

“Rules of procedure and evidence are relaxed in order to assist the parties in obtaining a just, speedy and inexpensive determination of their respective claims and defenses,” read the decision signed by Associate Justice Lorenza Bordios and concurred in by Associate Justices Pamela Ann Abella Maxino and Nancy Rivas-Palmones.

“Thus, the agency a quo should have given due credence to the petitioner’s wife’s 2013 TR and, on the basis thereof, reversed its assailed Decision dated 29 August 2017 instead of affirming it in the assailed Joint Order dated 08 February 2018,” it added.

The CA further explained that Mabilog “did not conceal or misrepresent anything in relation to this increase in his net worth,” because he openly declared the P8.98-million increase in his net worth and voluntarily submitted his wife’s tax returns.

“The petitioner’s conduct in this case negate the findings of malicious intent to conceal the truth or make false statements by the agency a quo. His outward acts appear more consistent with an attempt to offer a sincere explanation rather than a desperate effort to conceal any wrongdoings,” it said.

The court added that Mabilog’s wife earned a net income of C$140,944 in 2013, or roughly P5.88 million. This already accounted for 65 percent of the increase in Mabilog’s wealth, with the remainder likely coming from his income as mayor of a highly urbanized city. “The increase in the petitioner’s net worth is placed within the realm of reason,” it said.

Finally, the CA pointed out that “the finding of serious damage and grave prejudice to the
government was a general conclusion that was not sufficiently explained” by the Ombudsman, especially since Mabilog was not alleged to have gravely abused his authority, falsified official documents, or committed an offense that involved accountable property or civil service eligibility.

“Absent any intent to commit a wrong, and having accounted for the source of the ‘unexplained wealth,’ one cannot be adjudged guilty of dishonesty,” the CA concluded.

Mabilog fled the country after President Rodrigo Duterte accused him of involvement in the illegal drug trade, without evidence.

The complainant, Mejorada, was a former provincial administrator who became the bitter enemy of Mabilog’s second cousin, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

The Supreme Court (SC), in its June 10, 2019 resolution, affirmed with finality Mejorada’s sentencing to four years and two months in prison for accusing Drilon of corruption in connection with the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center, a road project and a ferry terminal.

Recently, the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) sentenced Mejorada to nine to 17 more years in prison for accusing Drilon of “literally scouring the depths of the public treasury” through Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) projects, giving drug lords “free rein to lord over” Iloilo City, and being involved in “the most overpriced roadway in the country” and being responsible for the “rape and plunder of the public treasury.” #

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