MANILA, Philippines - Retired Philippine Navy Captain Vicente Escala and his 3 co-accused have been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan First Division of falsification charges on an appeal.
In a 5-page resolution issued November 2, the graft court reversed its June 10, 2010 verdict convicting Escala, Navy Captain Jesus Biola, chairman of the canvass and award committee; and Commander Aristotle Guzman and Lieutenant Commander Leonardo Gamboa, members of the same committee, of falsification of public documents in connection with alleged fraudulent bidding for medical supplies between October 1990 and July 1992.
The court held that a sworn affidavit submitted by the prosecution does not deserve the evidentiary weight it was earlier given because the document was not sworn by the witness before it but in another trial court.
“After a second hard look at the evidence on record, the Court is persuaded that the deposition of Francisco Garcia, by itself, is insufficient to establish the falsification (charges). The Court should not have given considerable and determining weight and credit to the said deposition… for the reason that the taking of the said deposition before the presiding judge of the MTC (municipal trial court) of Rosario, Cavite… was procedurally infirm,” the Sandiganbayan said.
It cited a 2008 Supreme Court decision in the case of Concepcion Cuenco Vda. De Manguerra vs. Risos, which said that a conditional deposition of a witness has to be made “before the court where the case is pending.”
Escala, , former commander of the naval base in Cavite, was earlier convicted on 2 counts of falsification and was meted 16 years imprisonment while the 3 other defendants each received 8-year jail terms.
The cases stemmed from an investigation by the Commission on Audit on the procurement records of the Navy, which showed evidence of bogus declarations including rigged canvass for supplies.
The former officers were accused of faking the abstracts of canvass by declaring that the Navy received canvass proposals from Porta Vaga Drug, Farmacia Pugeda, and Farmacia Pulido when no such process actually took place.
Porta Vaga Drug was eventually awarded the contract worth P2.78 million.
In convicting the 4 accused, the graft court relied heavily on the sworn statement of Francisco Garcia, co-owner of Farmacia Pugeda, which given before Judge Rita Quizon of the Municipal Trial Court of Rosario, Cavite saying.
Pugeda said he did not submit a canvass proposal or price quotation to the Naval Station Hospital of the naval base of Cavite.
The witness also testified that his purported signatures on the canvass documents were forged.