CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY - With a string of administrative cases dismissed by the Court of Appeals (CA), incumbent City Mayor Oscar Moreno and his co-accused remain optimistic that they could 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 PHP15 million between 2007 and 2012.
In a statement Thursday, Moreno said he is planning on making a comeback to the province by running in the gubernatorial race in the 2022 elections.
The accuser, engineer Antonio Nunez, 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 Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) said was 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 Moreno's co-accused in one of the anti-graft cases.
The anti-graft court's 2nd Division issued a resolution denying Moreno's motion to file a demurrer to evidence on Monday.
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.
Meanwhile, Moreno's legal team said the mayor and his co-defendants are ready to present 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, the mayor's head legal counsel.
Mordeno said they received the resolution of the 2nd Division of the Sandiganbayan, dated Nov. 22, 2021, on criminal case nos. SB-18-CRM-0114, 0134-0136, 0137, 0142, 0151, 0229, 0274, 0388, 0395, 0405, 0496-97, and 0145-50.
"Ultimately, with the denial of our 'Motion for Leave of Court to file a 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 said.
He added it would just be 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 still governor.
Mordeno said the facts and circumstances of the cases are the same as the administrative cases that were already overturned by the CA in July 2019.
"We remain poised to exhaust all the legal remedies that are available for us to utilize," he said. "The OMB 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 a reasonable doubt."
The CA, 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 court 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 CA added that the Ombudsman should have conducted its investigation. (PNA)