By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Third Division has acquitted Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Chief Supt. Rolando M. Bandilla Jr. and Chief Insp. Jhufel M. Brañanola of graft charges due to the failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Bandilla Jr. and Brañanola were earlier slapped with a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act when they reversed two BFP Final Investigation Reports favoring Malayan Insurance Company Incorporated back on July 29, 2009.
The two of them issued a 3rd Investigation Report, which cast doubts in the findings of the two investigation reports. The third one reportedly blocked the legitimate insurance claims of Emma C. L. Lin against Malayan Insurance since it declared the February 24, 2008 fire on a cluster of warehouses as “undetermined” instead of “accidental” despite the prior issuance of a Fire Clearance Certificate.
Both the accused maintained good faith during the trial. Bandilla insisted that his recommendation to consider the case closed was made without prejudice to any reinvestigation, while Brañanola maintained that Malayan Insurance already denied the claim of complainant Lin even before they issued the third report because the cause of the fire was arson.
In its ruling, the anti-graft court said that Bandilla Jr. was well within his duty to order the reinvestigation of the fire. There were inconsistencies in the earlier reports, according to the court, which warranted the reinvestigation.
“For instance, the Electrical Report No. 2008-67 dated March 24, 2008 reveals that, based on the findings on the electrical wirings, there were no traces of short circuit. This finding contradicts the Fire Clearance Certification that the cause of the fire was electrical ignition due to wiring,” the decision read.
Likewise, the Sandiganbayan did not find anything to prove acts of conspiracy between Bandilla Jr. and Brañanola.
“While direct proof is not essential to establish conspiracy, it must be established by positive and conclusive evidence. Conviction must thus be founded on facts, not on mere inferences and presumptions,” the decision read.
The 24-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez.