By Czarina Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has acquitted former Siocon Mayor Ceasar Soriano of Zamboanga del Norte of perjury in connection with the reportedly anomalous declaration in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
He was initially charged for violating Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code, together with former vice mayor Perliza Soriano. They reportedly made “a deliberate assertion of falsehood upon a material matter in their joint 2011 SALN.”
Both accused allegedly omitted certain businesses in their SALN, such as the sand and gravel supply, digital imaging, wine and liquor distribution, Sunrise Money Transfer, and Sunrise Pawnshop.
Meanwhile, Soriano was also accused of violating Section 8 in relation to Section 11 of R.A. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials. This was for his failure to submit and file under oath his SALN for the period of June 30, 2013 with the office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao within 30 days after his separation from service as mayor.
Only Soriano was arraigned on January 8, 2018, and he pleaded not guilty to the charge. On the other hand, he pleaded guilty to his breach of conduct charge with the reduced penalty of P2,000.
Perliza remains at large, so the anti-graft court archived her case.
The Sandiganbayan then proceeded with Soriano’s perjury trial, but found in the end that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, his culpability.
True, the prosecution managed to present business permits issued to Ceasar. These papers, paired with his non-disclosure of the businesses in his SALN, constituted an omission of details and therefore violates the perjury law.
However, the anti-graft court noted that the prosecution was unable to prove the accused’s “deliberate and malicious intent” to conceal the said businesses.
“The prosecution failed to show accused’s conscious, malicious concealment in executing his SALN. It could have done so by presenting circumstantial evidence that would tend to prove his malicious intent, such as proof of actual operation of said businesses,” the decision read.
“It could likewise have presented positive testimony that accused wished to conceal the fact of the operation of such businesses from the public by not declaring them in his SALN,” it added.
In failing to do so, the anti-graft court ruled that the quantum of proof required in the case was lacking. Soriano was ordered acquitted of his perjury charge, and his hold departure order lifted.
The 13-page decision was written by Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto with the concurrence of Chairperson Alex Quiroz and Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz.