By Czarina Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Second Division has cleared two former Department of Finance (DOF) officials of their graft and estafa through falsification charges after granting their demurrer to evidence.
Officer-in-Charge Net Local Content/Net Value Earned and Domestic Capital Equipment Raul de Vera and Senior Tax Specialist Rosanna Diala were charged with three counts of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and another three counts of Article 315 in relation to Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code, otherwise known as estafa through falsification of public documents.
On July 10, 1995, De Vera and Diala, together with Undersecretary Antonio Belicena and Deputy Executive Director Uldarico Andutan Jr., were accused of giving undue advantage to Baliwag Transit Inc. by recommending the approval of Tax Certificate No. 003300 in the amount of P10,788,576. The prosecution said the tax credit claimed by Baliwag was fraudulently granted under Article 39(d) of Executive Order No. 226, which allows credit for bus units purchased from domestic manufacturers. However, in Baliwag’s case, the bus units were purchased from Diamond Motors Corporation, which is not a domestic manufacturer but a dealer.
On Dec. 14, 1995, Baliwag was once again approved Tax Credit Certificate No. 007704 in the amount of P6,610,992. The tax credit was claimed for 10 bus units. Lastly, on July 10, 1997, Tax Credit Certificate No. 008092 was approved in the amount of P10,891,001, and the tax credit was claimed for 25 bus units.
In their demurrer to evidence dated Nov. 22, 2019, De Vera and Diala averred that the case must be dismissed because the prosecution’s evidence is insufficient to support a conviction.
They explained that not all elements of graft have been established, and the prosecution failed to overthrow their presumption of innocence. De Vera and Diala likewise said there was no proof of conspiracy among all the accused.
Diala acted as the Evaluator of the One Stop Shop Inter-Agency Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center (OSS Center), but she said there is no legal basis to conclude that she was responsible for checking the authenticity of the documents submitted by the applicant.
On the other hand, De Vera claimed that his function is only to examine and verify the Evaluation Report. As such, the reports they prepared were merely recommendatory.
As for their estafa charges, the accused contended there is not an iota of evidence that would prove they falsified the documents for the tax credit application of Baliwag.
In its ruling, the anti-graft court gave weight to the demurrer of De Vera and Diala. “[The] mere act of reviewing the process of tax credit claims conducted by tax evaluators and the act of giving recommending approval to the Evaluation Report will not reveal the conspiracy between accused Diala and De Vera,” the decision read.
“Hence, accused Diala and De Vera were not bound to conduct verification or authentication of the supporting documents submitted by the claimant, as such, it negates the presence of evident bad faith and manifest partiality in recommending the approval of the issuance of the subject tax credit certificates.”
The 38-page decision was written by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with the concurrences of Second Division Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi.