MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division has acquitted 8 former Philippine National Police (PNP) officials on graft charges concerning alleged spurious purchase of P20-million worth of uniform and equipment in 1992.
The court, in its decision, cited weak evidence submitted by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Cleared were former PNP director for comptrollership Guillermo Domondon, Region 7 police office Director Roger Deinla, fiscal division chief Van D. Luspo, Region 7 comptroller Corleto Lopez, Region 7 finance chief Elpidio Ybañez, deputy ARD comptrollership officer Jose Beltran, and disbursing officers Benhur Aguinaldo and Florante Leaño.
They were accused of conspiracy in defrauding the government of P20 million that was supposedly issued for the acquisition of combat clothing and individual equipment for personnel of PNP-Region 7 office.
A fact-finding team formed by the PNP to investigate the transaction reported that no actual purchase took place. Logistics and supply officers confirmed the result of the probe by saying they received no such supplies.
However, the Sandiganbayan, in its 45-page decision, said the prosecution botched the case by failing to present the original 407 checks issued on August 11 to 14, 1992, which are crucial evidence in identifying the payees and the negotiation for encashment.
Prosecutors merely presented microfilm copies of the checks that were authenticated by an officer of the Land Bank of the Philippines.
According to the graft court, the microfilm copies only proved the existence of the checks but were insufficient to substantiate their contents, including establishing who were the payees and who converted them to cash.
“Notably, the prosecution is aware of the importance of the originals of the checks for it requested the Court to issue a subpoena…for the production of the checks to court. If despite having asked for it to be produced in court, it proved futile or could not have been done for one reason or another, the prosecution should have called the present accountant or any representatives from said office to explain why it cannot be produced,” the Sandiganbayan declared.
Associate Justice Napoleon E. Inoturan penned the ruling, which was concurred in by Associate Justices Alexander G. Gesmundo and Roland B. Jurado, division chairman.
“(S)econdary evidence as to the checks is not admissible. The Court must say that after a careful perusal of the facts of the case and the evidence presented, the guilt of the accused has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt,” the Sandiganbayan added.
The anti-graft court also criticized investigators for their failure to observe correct procedures in securing the statements of accused Deinla, Aguinaldo, Ybañes, and Leaño who did so without aid of counsel.
“The right to counsel is a fundamental right and requires not merely the fact that a lawyer is beside the accused during investigation. Though the same may be waived, waiver must be done in the presence of a lawyer,” the court noted.