MANILA, December 13, 2003  (STAR)  By Edu Punay - The son of former mayor Pablo Cuneta has been sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday after he was proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt of malversation of public funds by a regional trial court (RTC).

In a 17-page decision, Pasay RTC Branch 117 Judge Henrick Gingoyon ordered the police to immediately bring Generoso Cuneta, the president of the Pasay City League of Barangays, to the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP).

Gingoyon also ordered the 56-year-old Cuneta "to indemnify the Pasay City barangay league the sum of P250,000."

The public official, who is the half-brother of actress Sharon Cuneta, failed to attend the promulgation of his case. Sources said he was rushed to the San Juan de Dios Hospital because of high blood sugar levels.

The court ruling found out that Cuneta "exerted undue pressure and influence over the barangay league treasurer to prepare and issue several checks payable to him without authority and approval of the Board of Directors."

"He willfully, unlawfully and feloniously abused his position, misappropriated, misapplied and converted to his own personal use and benefit 13 checks, amounting to P.25 million from the funds of the league," Gingoyon said in his decision.

It was established during the hearings that funds of the league were deposited to two Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) branches — Masagana and Pasay — from February 1999 to December 2000 under the Current Account No. 2212-1026-04, the court said.

The prosecution, led by Rosendo Tejero Jr., presented before the court four witnesses, namely: Eduardo Napa, 34, former treasurer of the league; Marilou Asinas, 38, document examiner of the LBP branch in Pasay; Benedicta Oamil, 33, another LBP document examiner and Jose Cardana , 62, former auditor of the league.

Defense lawyer Leonides Bernabe, on the other hand, presented Corazon Pesayco, 64, barangay chairwoman and Severo Larangan, 50, Cuneta’s chief of staff as witnesses.

Napa, who admitted under oath that he was forceby Cuneta to sign the checks, testified that Cuneta "took out personal cash advances from the funds of the league by drawing checks payable to his own."

Cuneta, for his part, said the filing of the case was illegal. It was filed by Emmanuel Cinco, the former vice president of the league. Cuneta said Cinco was unauthorized to file the case because he no longer held public office at that time.

However, Cinco pursued his complaint and the case was filed in court last year.

Cuneta said the charge was absurd, saying "the league has no funds."

"The only funds the league has is the P1,000 per annum contributed by each barangay," he said.

Cuneta added that he receives P1.5 million annually for special projects as an ex-officio member of the City Council so it is he who gives money to the league, "not the other way around." Court officials said Cuneta has 15 days to file his "notice of appeal" with the same court branch. They said he would be considered fugitive if he does not surrender.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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