MANILA - Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos has been cleared of electoral sabotage charges.
The Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 117 acquitted Abalos of 11 counts of electoral sabotage filed by the poll body on January 2012.
The case stemmed from the alleged rigging of election results in South Cotabato during the 2007 elections.
In a 48-page resolution, Presiding Judge Eugenio Dela Cruz said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of Abalos.
Abalos was accused of plotting and conniving with South Cotabato provincial election supervisor Atty. Lilian Suan-Radam to give a 12-0 result in favor of the candidates of Team Unity by tampering with the provincial certificates of canvass, and increasing the votes of candidates Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Michael Defensor, Loren Legarda, Vicente Magsaysay Jr., Tessie Oreta, Prospero Pichay, Ralph Recto, Luis Chavit Singson, Vicente Sotto III and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
"In light of the foregoing, all eleven counts for the offense Electoral Sabotage against Atty. Benjamin Abalos Sr. are ordered dismissed and Atty. Benjamin Abalos Sr. is acquitted for failure by the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt," the decision read.
Dela Cruz noted that even though Radam testified that Abalos had instructed her to make Team Unity win 12-0 in South Cotabato, this does not make Abalos a principal by inducement.
Radam also denied that she followed Abalos' instructions. Radam, who was also indicted with Abalos, was made a state witness after charges against her were dropped by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
"But Radam, who was supposed to have been induced by Abalos to commit the crime, has categorically denied any participation in the commission of the crime charges in any capacity whatsoever. This only leads to one definite conclusion: there was no principal by inducement, because there was no principal by direct participation," Dela Cruz wrote.
Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, meanwhile, lamented the decision, noting that this was among the first cases on electoral sabotage, considered the newest of the election offenses.
Brillantes wondered why, even with the prosecution presenting 17 witnesses, the court would favor Abalos, who only presented himself as witness to deny the charges.
He said he will meet with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to discuss their legal options, as appealing the case would constitute double jeopardy on their part because of the acquittal decision.
With his acquittal, Abalos still faces two more counts of electoral sabotage at the Pasay RTC Branch 112 presided by Judge Jesus Mupas.
This concerns the allegations that Abalos caused the rigging of election results in the province of North Cotabato during the 2007 presidential elections.
Among his co-accused are Atty. Yogie Martirizar and Capt. Peter Reyes.