Court junks graft charge against Binay’s wife

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2011 10:54 PM | Updated as of Apr 12 2011 03:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan Second Division has dismissed a graft case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman against former Makati City Mayor Elenita Binay, wife of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, and 5 co-accused citing weak evidence submitted by the prosecution.

Binay was accused of conspiring with former city administrator Nicanor Santiago Jr, general services department head Ernesto Aspillaga, and private defendants Li Yee Shing, Jason Li, and Vivian M. Edurise - corporate officers of furniture firm Office Gallery International Inc. – in an alleged excessive purchase of office partitions and furniture for the new city hall in 2000 and 2001 amounting to P58.04 million.

In a 69-page decision penned by division chairman and presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval, the graft court said the evidence presented by the prosecution fell short of proof beyond reasonable doubt required in a criminal proceeding.

Associate Justices Teresita Diaz-Baldos and Samuel Martires concurred.

 “(T)his court is duty-bound to spare the accused from the unnecessary burden, expense and anxiety of having to defend themselves in public trial. The admission made in open court early on by the Prosecution that the Information they filed in this case does not conform with evidence on record, foretold a bleak conclusion to this case,” the court declared.

It noted that based on Prosecutor Rodrigo Coquia’s statements during trial, the information was unclear about what the offense really was – undue injury caused to the government on account of the alleged excess purchase or overprice; or unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference given to Office Gallery International Inc. because the transaction was a negotiated purchase.

Little weight was also given to testimonies by members of a team of government auditors led by newly-appointed Commissioner Heidi Mendoza. The court noted that the system they relied on was full of holes.
Prosecutors used only a photocopy of the furniture layout plan that served as its basis in computing the supposed overprice.

Under questioning by Justice Martires, State Auditor III Dean Suson Montalban also acknowledged that they came up with the figure for the purchase by a simple comparison of the layout plan with the purchase request and purchase order.

“It is beyond belief that the prosecution came to Court with evidence comprising merely of a bare comparison of the number of partitions purchased as appearing in the purchase order, on one hand, and partitions planned to be used as indicated in the furniture layout plan, on the other, without referring to a confirmatory physical count of the partitions actually used in the City Hall,” the court pointed out.

Mendoza also “confessed that the details of the items compared in their audit are not the same as those described in the purchase orders” and used in the references prices by her team.

“(T)his Court remains in disbelief that the prosecution came to Court with such shoddy evidence, leaving us no alternative. In the face of the weakness of the prosecution’s case to prove the elements of the offense charged against the accused, there remains no further reason to hold them for trial under the present indictment,” the Sandiganbayan Second Division added.