Ex-Lucena mayor, 9 others acquitted of graft over bingo franchise

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2017 08:49 PM

MANILA - The Sandiganbayan 4th Division has acquitted former Lucena City Mayor Ramon Talaga and nine former councilors from graft charges after the prosecution failed to prove that he had given unwarranted benefits to a bingo operator in his city.

In a decision promulgated on Oct. 6. the anti-graft court said the prosecution failed to establish a conspiracy between Talaga and 9 city councilors in enacting City Ordinance No. 1963, which granted Jose Sy Bang the local franchise to operate his bingo gaming business.

Also acquitted were former Councilors Godofredo Faller, Victor Paulo, Danilo Zaballero, Salome Dato, Simon Aldovino, Wilfredo Asilo, Philip Castillo, Aurora Garcia and Romano Franco Talaga.

The court noted that complainant Raymundo Nazario of Elan Recreation Inc. (ERI), who had lost his gaming franchise, admitted that he does not know for a fact that Sy Bang was given undue benefit to operate the bingo franchise.

“Private complainant Nazario in fact admits that he simply presumed that undue benefit was given to Sy Bang, given the speed it took for the [city council] to pass Ordinance No. 1963, and that Sy Bang commenced his plans to open up his bingo operations soon after the closure of ERI’s operations,” the court said. 

The court also noted that Talaga and his councilors did not appear to have “specifically favored Sy Bang to the exclusion, disfavor or detriment of any other individual” as there were no other applicants who competed for the franchise.

The court also said that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation was the government agency that allowed Sy Bang to operate his business.

“Thus, it was the PAGCOR franchise that allowed Sy Bang to operate his bingo outlet and not Lucena City Ordinance No. 1963. Otherwise stated, Ordinance No. 1963 conferred no unwarranted benefit or privilege to Sy Bang,” the court said. 

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto, while Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, the division chairperson, and Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz concurred.