By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Second Division has affirmed its decision refusing to let former Catanduanes Governor Leandro Verceles Jr. and several of his co-accused file a demurrer to evidence and challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence in their graft case.
Verceles is facing a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act together with former officials – provincial engineer Rodolfo Maliñana, assistant provincial assessor Abelardo Abundo Jr., engineer Hilda Arcilla, provincial budget officer Ireneo Del Rosario, administrative officer Roger Pitajen, provincial agriculturist Herbert Evangelista Sr., and provincial treasurer Julietta Tasarra.
Private individuals and Green’s International Enterprises (GIE) executives Ricardo Mendoza Jr. and Maria Lourdes Mendoza were also included in the charge.
Their graft charge stemmed from the reportedly irregular purchase of Macro Micro Liquid Fertilizer dated December 20, 2005. There was no competitive public bidding conducted, which was in violation of the provisions of R.A. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
All of them filed a motion for leave to file demurrer to evidence on August 5, but it was denied by the anti-graft court on September 12.
In his motion for reconsideration, Verceles maintained that there was public bidding conducted despite the accusations of the prosecution. He argued that the public bidding was mistaken by the BAC as direct contracting, and there was no mention at all of the brand name of the fertilizer in their minutes of meeting.
His co-accused also insisted that there was no brand name specified. They also said the BAC made an “honest mistake” when it documented the procurement as direct contracting.
However, the anti-graft court found their arguments lacking in merit.
“A cursory look of the records shows that the evidence presented by the prosecution suggests that no public bidding was conducted and the minutes illustrates that the accused resorted to alternative mode of procurement without complying with conditions prescribed by law,” the resolution read. “Hence, it is incumbent upon the accused to present evidence to prove otherwise.”
Filing a demurrer to evidence is an act contesting that the evidence offered in the case is insufficient to render a guilty verdict. If the court grants it, then the case would be dropped.
Since the court did not grant permission to Verceles and his co-accused to file their demurrer, doing so would mean they are waiving their right to present defense evidence and the case would be submitted for resolution. They could also choose not to submit a demurrer to evidence, and the trial would continue.
The five-page resolution was written by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with the concurrence of Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi.