By Czarina Nicole Ong
Former Philippine representative to the United Nations and Chief of Missions of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Lauro Baja Jr., has filed a motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, asking the court to reverse his conviction for one count each of graft and malversation due to the misappropriation of public funds back in 2006.
Baja was convicted for violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code for taking $17,542.27 worth of public funds and using it as payment of personal and building damage, “holdbacks,” and proceeds of insurance claim for the alleged jewelry cash of his wife.
Baja was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years, one month and one day imprisonment and a maximum of 27 years and four months with perpetual disqualification from holding public office. He was also directed to pay back the government the amount of $17,547.27.
In his MR, Baja said the evidence presented by the prosecution is not sufficient to prove his guilt. Baja was faulted for depositing money in his personal PNB account instead of the New York Philippine Mission’s (NYPM) account in the discharge of his official functions, but he reasoned that he did so “only after a recommendation by Finance Officer Tomas Valerio Jr.”
Because of this, he cannot be accused of acting in bad faith. “We respectfully submit that had the accused been motivated by evident bad faith, he could have easily opened a separate bank account by himself without informing the Finance Officer, designated himself as the sole authorized signatory, and thereafter caused the withdrawal of the funds without informing anyone else,” the MR read.
Baja maintained that transparency was used in the handling of the insurance proceeds since Valerio countersigned all withdrawals.
As for his wife’s reimbursement for stolen jewelry and cash, Baja stressed that the insurance proceeds used to cover it are private funds “which should not even be considered in the present case.”
“The insurance proceeds are not taxes, customs duties, or amounts of money raised by operation of law for the government. It is likewise well to note that the prosecution never contested that the lost jewelry were owned by Mrs. Norma Baja, making the same private property,” the MR read.