By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
Former Saint Bernard Mayor Napoleon Lim Cuaton of Southern Leyte has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan Second Division of graft in relation to his reported illegal termination of the services of a municipal staff.
He was accused of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act on July 9, 2013 because he terminated the services of Gerry Mencide, Administrative Aide I of the municipality, on July 9, 2013.
Mencide was reportedly fired without valid cause or legal basis. As a result of Cuaton’s actions, Mencide was deprived of his security of tenure and was caused undue injury in the amount equivalent to his salaries and benefits during the period of his illegal removal.
During the trial, the anti-graft court was able to determine that the first and third elements of the crime were present. The first was that Cuaton was a public officer when the crime took place, and third was that his action caused undue injury to Mencide.
There were Civil Service Commission (CSC) decisions ordering the reinstatement of Mencide, so his termination proved to be unwarranted. His termination undoubtedly caused undue injury to him, because he was withheld his salaries at the time. Mencide’s loss of a job also affected members of his family, who were all dependent on him.
However, the second element of graft – that he acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence – was not successfully proven by the prosecution.
“The Court finds that there is reasonable doubt about the presence of the third element, referring to the allegation that, in terminating the employment of Mencide, accused Cuaton acted ‘with evident bad faith, manifest partiality and gross inexcusable negligence,'” the decision read.
Cuaton admitted during trial that a mistake took place when he signed Mencide’s termination papers. He said there was a miscommunication between him and his secretary, who was tasked to prepare a letter requiring Mencide to explain the deteriorated condition of the municipal backhoe.
Instead of this letter, his secretary prepared a termination letter, which he then signed without his full attention given the voluminous documents he had to attend to.
The Court said his explanation was “self-serving,” but it could not deny the fact that his office issued a Return to Work Order for Mencide just three months after he was terminated. According to Cuaton, he took action as soon as he learned of his error.
“Had Mencide heeded the return to work orders, he could have claimed and would have been given his back salaries for the months of July, August, and September,” the decision read.
“The Court cannot ignore the aforementioned facts and circumstances that negate the imputation of evident bad faith, manifest partiality, or gross inexcusable negligence on the part of accused Cuaton in signing the letter dated July 9, 2013 terminating the employment of Mencide,” it added.
The 20-page decision was written by Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. with the concurrence of Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Lorifel Pahimna.