Sandiganbayan won't acquit ex-PAGCOR chair over SC decisions

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2023 04:45 PM

MANILA -- The Sandiganbayan 3rd Division has refused to acquit former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chairman Efraim Genuino of his graft and malversation cases on the basis of two recent Supreme Court decisions.

In a resolution promulgated on January 19, 2023, the court denied the manifestation and motion filed by Genuino praying for his acquittal, citing the Supreme Court decisions on the nature of PAGCOR funds spent during his time.

In his manifestation and motion, Genuino said the Supreme Court held that the funds disbursed by PAGCOR for the purchase of “Baler” movie tickets came from the agency’s Operating Expense (OPEX) Fund which is separate and distinct from the 5% franchise tax and 50% share of the government.

He added that the Supreme Court held that the OPEX Fund is part of PAGCOR’s private corporate funds and outside the audit jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit.

Genuino also noted that the P26.7 million spent for the tickets were within the powers of PAGCOR as the transaction with BIDA Foundation was socio-civic in nature.

Genuino also pointed out that even prosecution witnesses admitted that PAGCOR does not receive funding from the government and generates its own income revenue, which means that there was no undue injury to the government.

For the other cases, Genuino likewise argued that the funds used for their Corporate Social Responsibility project formed part of the the agency’s private corporate funds.

But the Sandiganbayan stated in its resolution that the SC decision tackled the jurisdiction of COA to conduct a governmental audit over PAGCOR funds which is unassociated with the criminal charges against him.

The court noted that the present cases, 19 graft and 20 malversation, stemmed from the criminal information filed by the Ombudsman in 2013 and not on the notices of disallowance issued by COA.

The court also noted in its resolution that the prosecution failed to file its comment or opposition within the prescribed period.

“Thus, the guilt or innocence of the accused may only be determined by the court after a consideration of the totality of evidence submitted by the parties,” the court said in the resolution penned by Division Chairperson and Presiding Justice Amparo-Cabotaje-Tang, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Ronald Moreno.

The Sandiganbayan also noted that one of the decisions of the Supreme Court had a factual backdrop relating to the financial assistance given by PAGCOR to Pleasant Village Homeowners Association which is materially different from the purchase of movie tickets.

The court also emphasized that the Supreme Court made no pronouncement as to the guilt or innocence of Genuino in relation to the criminal charges filed against him.

The court added that determination of guilt of an accused is hinged on how courts appreciate evidentiary matters related to the requisites of an offense.

“Applying settled jurisprudence, the court holds that the evaluation of the above-mentioned assertios of the accused-movant in his motions, and the purported admissions of the prosecution witnesses should be properly threshed out by the court after the present cases are submitted for decision,” the court said.