By Czarina Ong
Former Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) chief Francisco Senot has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan Second Division of his three estafa thru falsification of public document charges by the Sandiganbayan Second Division.
Senot, who was fire chief from 2000 to 2004, was earlier accused of violating Article 315 in relation to Articles 171 and 48 of the Revised Penal Code together with former BFP Finance Service Unit chief Florante Cruz, who was also acquitted.
The two of them were accused of forging purchase orders and making it appear that there was procurement of toner for xerox machines in the total amount of P630,680 on December 20, 2001 and even paid John Does the said amount even though no purchase was really made.
They also falsified documents for the purchase of property sticker and fire line worth P759,900 as well as bond papers worth P625,733.43. The prosecution wrote in the charge sheet that in truth, they used the money “for their own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of the government.”
The prosecution presented Renato Molina, chief of the General Service Section of the BFP, who testified that he refused to sign documents that certified delivery of the said items because there has been no delivery made.
When he refused, Molina said Senot shouted at him and told him to leave his office. Out of fear that he would be displaced to Mindanao, Molina said he had no choice but to sign the documents — the requisition and issue voucher (RIV), certificate of acceptance, report of property purchased, and disbursement vouchers (DVs).
On the other hand, retired fireman Aniceto Herrera stated his case for the defense and said he was the Supply Officer of the BFP, and he confirmed receipt of the toners, fire lines and bond papers.
After specifying the dates of the deliveries, he signed the delivery receipts and sales invoices for all transactions and submitted them to Molina.
When the anti-graft court weighed both the prosecution and defense, it decided to rule in favor of the defense. The court noted that the prosecution failed to identify any law, implementing rule or memorandum which outlines distinctly the steps for procurement in the BFP.
Because of this, the court is inclined to the conclusion that the procurement documents presented during the course of the trial are more or less complete.
“Hence, there is reasonable doubt in favor of the accused, insofar as the documents which the prosecution allegedly states as missing do not correspond to any statutory or legal requirement on the BFP’s procurement procedure,” the 27-page decision read.
The court ruled that there might be irregularities in the documents presented during the trial, but the main documents – the purchase orders themselves – are “presumably valid” since they are accomplished by the proper department and personnel of the BFP.
“In the cases herein, there is nothing to show that accused Senot and Cruz had some ‘unity of action and purpose’ to commit estafa thru falsification of public documents,” the decision read. “In fact, the testimonial and documentary evidence presented are so incoherent and the facts on linkages of acts are based merely on surmises that they can hardly prove anything in consideration, of course, to the threshold of proof required by law in criminal cases.”
The decision was penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi and concurred by Associate Justices Lorifel Pahimna, Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, and Edgardo Caldona.
Meanwhile, chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. offered a dissenting opinion, since he believes all the elements of the crime were present. “The falsification is already consummated and it is the defraudation which causes damage or prejudice to another that constitutes estafa,” he stressed.
He further wrote that the denials and assertions of both Senot and Cruz are “purely self-serving” and “cannot prevail over the positive declarations of the prosecution witnesses who have no ill-motive to falsely testify” against them.