By Czarina Nicole Ong
Former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Diomedio P. Villanueva has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan of a graft charge leveled against him in relation to the reportedly anomalous P53-million refund he gave to Philpost USA.
The anti-graft court’s First Division cleared him of the charge due to the prosecution’s failure to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Villanueva, who was then Postmaster General of the Philippine Postal Corporation (PPC), was accused of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, alongside former Assistant Postmaster General Antonio Siapno and Acting Director of the Accounting Department Leonido Basilio.
On November 19, 2003, Villanueva and his co-accused reportedly acted “with evident bad faith, manifest partiality and gross inexcusable negligence” when they gave unwarranted benefits to Philpost USA, a private corporation established to provide remail international services to residents of the U.S. using Philippines postage.
Under their licensing agreement, they paid the corporation $1,031,936.04 or P53,043,834.52 for the Terminal Dues for Mail Matters sent to Royal Mail.
During his arraignment on August 10, 2018, Villanueva entered a not guilty plea. The warrants of arrest of his co-accused remain unserved.
In its 13-page decision, the court said that the presumption of Villanueva’s innocence was not overcome by the prosecution.
It is undisputed that the refund was initiated by a letter from PhilPost USA, after it has duly paid the PPC the terminal dues for 2001. Villanueva then referred the request to his co-accused, Siapno, who sought the opinion of other PPC officers.
“Notably, accused Villanueva cannot be said to have acted with bias as he did not misrepresent anything to Siapno with regard to the refund sought, nor did he persuade or influence the latter into agreeing with the refund,” the court ruled.
“Also, there was no showing that accused Villanueva stood to gain anything should a refund be effected. Similarly, bad faith cannot be ascribed to his actions as the records are wanting that he was motivated by a dishonest purpose or ill will in seeking Siapno’s recommendation, and eventually, in approving the refund,” it added.
Meanwhile, the prosecution also failed to prove Villanueva’s gross inexcusable negligence in this case.
Upon receipt of the refund request, Villanueva coursed this to Siapno. The court said Villanueva did so believing that Siapno knew better than him with regards to the corporation’s financial concerns.
“Villanueva’s course of action shows that he was guided by good faith in performing his duties as Postmaster General and CEO, designating and seeking the opinion of his subordinates on matters which he is not particularly an expert of,” the court said.
As for Siapno’s recommendation, it cannot be said to have been carried out with haste since it arrived over two weeks after PhilPost USA made the request. “Also noteworthy is the fact that Siapno even made a distinction between the terminal dues paid for 2001 and 2002, and did not recommend the refund of the latter for want of buffer funds,” the decision read.
Only Villanueva was acquitted in the decision dated February 22. It was penned by Chairperson Efren De La Cruz with the concurrence of Associate Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona.