By Czarina Nicole O. Ong
The Sandiganbayan Third Division has convicted former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes for graft and has sentenced him to a minimum imprisonment of six years and one month and a maximum of eight years.
Reyes’ graft charge involved the issuance of the Small Scale Mining Permit to Olympic Mines and Development Corporation (OMDC) from April 6, 2006 to April 5, 2008, even though OMDC already mined and extracted the annual maximum of 50,000 dry metric tons of ore set forth in its previous permit.
Reyes, together with Mining Operations Officer IV Andronico Baguyo, were accused of conspiring with one another and giving unwarranted benefit to OMDC since they allowed it to extract in excess of the allowable limit and use heavy equipment in its mining operations, which is prohibited by R.A. 7076 and Presidential Decree 1899.
Both Reyes and Baguyo pleaded not guilty to the graft charge. While the court agreed that Reyes could not have acted in “evident bad faith” when he issued the permit despite the alleged violation of the terms, he cannot be spared of “gross inexcusable negligence.”
The court ruled that Reyes acted with “gross inexcusable negligence” when he renewed the OMDC’s permit even though its existing one, which was supposed to last until November 2006, was still valid.
“The caps were set in the Mining Laws to ensure the sustainable use of our natural resources. The role of the local government unit, through its chief executive, is to safeguard and conserve our natural resources,” read the 34-page resolution signed by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez and concurred by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez.
The court added that Reyes cannot feign ignorance in giving privilege to the OMDC, since he was the signatory in all of the permits. He was chided for not gathering information that the OMDC violated the terms of its previous permit by over-extracting ore.
“As Governor of Palawan, his authority to approve small mining permits calls for the dual role of allowing the exploration and exploitation of, and conserving and preserving the natural resources within the provinces’ territorial jurisdiction,” the resolution read. “He chose to intentionally and wilfully ignore his responsibilities.”
On the other hand, the court decided to acquit Baguyo because the prosecution failed to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution was not able to present any evidence that fully established Baguyo’s participation in the processing of the permit, so the court cannot properly rule that he acted in conspiracy with Reyes.
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