By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
Four former Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) officials have been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan Second Division of graft involving their alleged misuse of P26 million worth of public funds that were set aside for the pensions of veterans from January to August 2003.
Former administrators Artemio Arugay and Wilfredo Pabalan, chief accountant Leovigildo Santos, and consultant Enrique Santos have been slapped with violations of Section 3(e) and (g) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The charge of 3(e), which was shared by all the accused, was for the withdrawal of PVAO funds amounting to P26,327,278.14 and the transfer to the Centennial Savings Bank, which is a non-accredited bank.
The prosecution accused them of using the funds for purposes other than the payment of pension.
Meanwhile, the charge of 3(g), which was faced by only Pabalan, Santos and Sintos, was for the use of the “Kiting Scheme” to manipulate the funds of the PVAO.
The “kiting scheme” is a form of check fraud. Perpetrators use this in order to get additional credit from a financial institution even though it is not authorized.
In a 45-page ruling, the anti-graft court ruled that the four of them cannot be convicted of graft due to the insufficiency of evidence against them.
One of the most “telling” parts of the trial was the testimony of witness Monico Villar, a financial investigator of Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLAC). He was the one who looked into the two PVAO accounts allegedly opened by the accused.
“For a witness, well versed in the commerce of banking as AMLAC financial auditor, to declare under oath that he never found any irregularity in the accounts subject of inter-agency investigation created doubt to the accusation of the prosecution that the memorandum of agreement entered into by and between accused…is grossly disadvantageous to the government,” the decision read.
So while the prosecution was successful in pointing out the transactions, the anti-graft court said that it cannot be constituted as irregular or illegal transactions.
The 45-page decision was written by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with the concurrence of Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi.