by Jimmy K. Laking
The Regional Trial Court in Benguet granted a motion dropping 13 municipal council officials, led by Vice Mayor Romeo K. Salda, as defendants in two cases filed each by the Cooperative Bank of Benguet and the CBB Cooperative Foundation for sum of money and damages arising from a combined loan of P23 million acquired for the purchase of the “zero waste technology” machine billed to process solid waste.
But RTC Branch 63 Judge Jennifer P. Humiding ruled last week that former mayor Gregorio T. Abalos, would remain a defendant in both cases in his capacity as then mayor of La Trinidad.
Dropped as defendants in both cases were Salda, councilors Jim Botiwey, Henry Kipas, Arthur Shontogan, Roderick Awingan, Horacio Ramos, Jr., Estrella Adeban, Francis Lee, Von Ryan Tauli, Robert Namorro, Brenden Kim J. Quintos, then municipal administrator Charles Canuto and Municipal Budget Officer Imelda E. Grupo.
Lawyer Caesar Oracion, who represents the Coop Bank and the Foundation, filed the motion “in order to save time of all the parties and also for the constituents of the municipality.”
Besides, he added, the municipality has admitted its liability as the actual debtor.
The municipality of La Trinidad in 2011 stumbled into the arrangement after the municipal council authorized then mayor Abalos in a resolution to obtain a loan of P18M to acquire the “zero waste technology.”
This is apart from another P5M acquired from the CBB Foundation, both loans with interest of 12 percent per annum.
The court initially dismissed both cases for lack of jurisdiction.
In her order last week, Humiding denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the municipality of La Trinidad for lack of merit but granted the motion to drop the other defendants.
Salda said the council did not deny authorizing Abalos to apply for the loan but “our liability ended there because the money never passed through the coffers of the municipal treasurer.”
“Hence, there is no basis for us to appropriate payment for the loan,” he said.
With a 12 percent interest, the P18M loaned to the municipality of La Trinidad ballooned to P39,073,500 as of September 2014.
The court added Abalos has been dropped as a party sued in his personal capacity but would remain a defendant in his official capacity as representative of the defendant municipality.