By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Third Division has acquitted Loboc Mayor Leon Asane Calipusan of his graft charge relative to the reportedly anomalous use of a parcel of land that eventually turned into a zip line business.
Calipusan was initially slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for taking a parcel of land belonging to the heirs of Epitacio Tanzo located at Barangay Gotozon, Loboc covered by Tax Declaration No. 2008-29-0020-00276 back on May 2010.
The land, with an area of 8,645 square meters, had a zonal value of P475,475. It was eventually used by zip line contractor Edwin Sacdalan through a joint venture business with the municipality amounting to P1,382,500.
The case against Calipusan fell because the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Based on the evidence, the anti-graft court learned that the construction of the zip line was actually initiated by the members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Loboc.
They unanimously adopted Resolution No. 28-2010 on March 10, 2010, which set aside P3.290 million for the implementation of the Phase I program on the zip line project, which aimed to boost the municipality’s tourism.
“Plainly, the prosecution evidence shows that the municipality of Loboc authorized the accused to cause the construction of a zip-line facility in their municipality,” the decision read.
At the same time, the anti-graft court failed to see how Calipusan acted with evident bad faith when he implemented the zip line construction.
When the heirs’ lawyer approached Calipusan and informed him that the zip-line facility was built using a portion of their land, Calipusan offered to buy the lot from them at P20 per square meter.
“Simply stated, the above-established facts do not show that accused operated with a furtive design to serve a self-interest or had any ulterior purposes when he approved the proposal for the establishment of an eco-tourism park in the municipality of Loboc,” the decision stated.
As for the undue injury reportedly caused to the heirs of Tanzo, the prosecution likewise failed to present any evidence that would show how they were deprived of P475,475. The court said that the prosecution cannot just rely on the zonal value of the land.
The heirs even admitted that they did not use the land after their father died. The land had coconut and banana trees prior to the construction of the zip line, but the prosecution failed to present concrete evidence on the value of these crops that were lost.
“To stress, the concept of undue injury under Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 is equated to the civil law concept of ‘actual damage.’ Thus, it must be specified, quantified, and proven to the point of moral certainty and it cannot be based on mere speculation, conjecture or guesswork,” the decision said.
The 59-page decision was penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang with the concurrence of Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez and Sarah Jane Fernandez.