TACLOBAN CITY- An outgoing mayor in Leyte was acquitted of 11 counts of allegation of malversation of public funds by a regional trial court. Mayor Alden Avestruz, who is serving his third and last term as mayor of Barugo was accused of the crime while he was sitting as vice mayor. Avestruz was accused to have misappropriated the amount of about P60,000 representing his various travelling expenses. “Of course, I feel relieved that the cases filed against me were finally dismissed by the court. I never misused these funds and were in fact, been liquidated long time ago,” Avestruz in an interview said.

He said that he already settled his unliquadated expenses in 2005. The alleged incidents took place from 2001 up to 2004 while he was a vice mayor. The 11 counts of malversation of public funds charged against Avestruz were filed by a town councilor who is running for mayor in this year’s elections. Avestruz’ wife, Ma. Rosario, filed her own candidacy for mayor. Based on the eight-page decision of Judge Lauro Castillo, presiding judge of Regional Trial Court Branch 36 based in Carigara town, also in Leyte, the prosecution failed to establish that the outgoing mayor had committed malversation of public funds.Castillo, on his decision dated December 22,2015, said for a malversation of funds to progress, the following elements have to be satisfied under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code: offender is a public official; in control or in custody of public funds; the questioned funds are considered as public funds and that he misappropriated the funds.

The court, however, said that while the three first elements were present under the instant case, the last element was missing. “Following a long line of cases…and pursuant to the constitutional presumption of innocence, if the evidence is insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused, the latter would necessarily be entitled to an acquittal,” the court said. By Joey Gabieta