MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - An anti-graft court on Friday acquitted Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito and several others of technical malversation over the alleged illegal diversion of P2.1 million in calamity funds used to purchase high-powered firearms.
In its decision, the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division granted the demurrers to evidence of Ejercito and 14 others and acquitted them of the offense on the ground of reasonable doubt.
"Let it be stressed that this verdict of acquittal is based on the failure of the prosecution to present proof beyond reasonable doubt that the accused indeed used the 2008 calamity fund of San Juan City in the procurement and payment of the subject firearms," the court ruled.
A demurrer of evidence is a motion to dismiss the case for lack of sufficient evidence to convict the accused. It urges the court to decide on the case halfway through the trial based solely on the evidence presented by prosecution.
Following the court's decision, Ejercito tweeted the following message on his Twitter account.
In an interview on ANC on Friday morning, Ejercito said he is very happy about the court's decision.
"It's a very good day. I'm very, very happy and I'd like to thank the Lord for the dismissal of the malversation case filed against me at the Sandiganbayan," he said.
The dismissal, he said, is "vindication on my part".
"I have suffered for two years, accused wrongly by the Ombudsman," he said.
While he thanked everyone for their continued trust and confidence in him, Ejercito stressed that his record is clean.
"My record is very clean ever since I entered public service and I intend to keep it that way," he said.
Ejercito's co-accused in the case are Leonardo Celles, Andoni Miguel Carballo, Vincent Rainer Pacheco, Angelino Mendoza, Dante Santiago, Rolando Bernardo, Grace Pardines, Domingo Sese, Francis Keith Peralta, Edgardo Soriano, Jannah Ejercito-Surla. Francisco Javier Zamora, Ramon Nakpil and Joseph Christopher Torralba.
The offense was allegedly committed in 2008 when Ejercito was San Juan City mayor and Zamora was councilor.
Ejercito had earlier stressed that there was no diversion, misapplication or misuse of public funds since the use of calamity funds was authorized by appropriation ordinances.
He also claimed that the ordinances on the use of calamity funds were never questioned or challenged in court.
He said the prosecution failed to prove that the calamity fund was really used to buy the firearms.
With the court decision, the hold departure order issued against them is also lifted.