ABS-CBN News

Former National Library exec acquitted in pilferage case

Posted at | Updated as of 05/29/08 10:18 PM

By Aries Rufo
Abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

The intent to gain was not present in the pilferage case against the former chief of the Filipiniana and Asia division, which cast doubt on her guilt, the Manila Regional Trial Court ruled today.

RTC judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Maria Luisa-Moral should be held liable for the massive pilferage of historical documents at the National Library, although one researcher has been found guilty for theft.

"It’s finally over," Maria Luisa Moral told a well-wisher over her mobile phone, minutes after Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina handed down her decision.

"I’m happy that the judge saw merit in my favor," Moral told this writer. "I did not steal any document."

Medina dismissed the qualified theft case against Moral based on "reasonable doubt" after the prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence to convict her.

Moral described the ruling as bittersweet. "My 26 years of good service in government were wasted. I was dismissed from my job because of this case."

Reasonable doubt

In her 12-page decision, Medina pointed out that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Moral was party to the theft of rare manuscripts and documents at the National Library.

Moral was indicted for qualified theft after she returned hundreds of documents to the National Bureau of Investigation at the height of the investigation on the alleged pilferage. (Please see Court set to decide on National Library pilferage of historical documents) 

As chief of the Filipiniana and Asia division, Moral was the custodian of the documents that were found to be in a researcher’s possession. The documents were being kept in two vaults, of which the key combinations were only known to Moral.

Former National Historical Institute researcher Rolando Bayhon was caught in a sting operation by NBI agents about to sell rare manuscripts at an antique shop in Manila. He was meted with 7-12 years imprisonment by another Manila RTC judge. Bayhon, who remains at large, refused to divulge other accomplices in the crime.

During the trial, Moral said the documents were mistakenly placed in her office by another staff as she moved out from her former office at the Filipiniana and Asia division to the Catalog division.

She said she deferred turning over the documents to the new chief of the Filipiniana division as she had an ongoing feud then with National Library director Adoracion Bolos.

Disappointed

In her 12-page decision, Medina found Moral’s defense "persuasive" pointing out that "it is human nature to fear disclosing a particular incident which may subject him to suspicion to somebody whom he thinks has always been hostile to him."

"Animosity and strained relationship were seen by the court as existing between Mrs. Bolos and the accused. The same was very apparent from the exchange of memoranda and/or letters sent by one to the other," Medina noted.

The judge also pointed out that "the element of intent to gain" was not established by the prosecution and the fact of her "voluntary act" to turn over the documents "negates intent to gain. "Except for the bare allegation in the information, the prosecution never presented sufficient evidence which would show that the alleged taking of subject documents was done with intent to gain. Settled is the rule that bare allegations, unsubstantiated by evidence are not equivalent to proof."

Bolos, in a phone interview, said she was disappointed with the court’s decision. "I’m frustrated…anybody can just steal from the National Library."