2 Sandigan justice rule vs acquittal of Abalos

Published August 24, 2020, 12:01 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson Benjamin Abalos was cleared of his graft charge by the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division last Aug. 20 but the decision to acquit him was not unanimous.

For an accused to be acquitted or convicted before the anti-graft court, all three justices in a division have to reach the same decision. Should one justice dissent, a special division will be created with two more justices from different divisions. After, the majority ruling would be followed.

The decision, which was released to the media only Monday, had the dissenting opinions of Sixth Division Chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez and Associate Justice Karl Miranda.

Abalos’ case was in relation to the purchase of two Toyota Revo vehicles in 2003 worth P1.7 million. He was initially faulted for making the purchase without undergoing public bidding, which was in violation of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Associate Justices Kevin Narce Vivero, Geraldine Faith Econg, and Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega all believed that the “totality of the evidence offered against accused Abalos failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted with evident bad faith, manifest partiality, or gross inexcusable negligence or that he gave unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference to Toyota Pasong Tamo Inc.”

Fernandez said in her dissenting opinion that she agrees Abalos did not appear to have acted with manifest partiality or evident bad faith when he purchased the vehicles.

However, she said he acted with gross inexcusable negligence when he approved the purchase of the vehicles without the conduct of competitive bidding.

“There is nothing in the evidence on record that would show that the purchase of the subject vehicles was an unforeseen contingency requiring immediate purchase,” said Fernandez. “Neither can the subject vehicles be considered to be ordinary or regular office supplies and equipment.”

Moreover, Fernandez said that the total cost of the vehicles — P1,776,000 — is significantly above the thresholds set for shopping.

Miranda concurred with Fernandez’s opinions and said that Abalos was “remiss” in his performance as the Head of the Procuring Entity (HoPE).

Since Abalos is a lawyer and a “veteran” government official, Miranda said that his failure to conduct competitive public bidding for the purchase of the vehicles should be deemed as “gross” and “inexcusable.”

“His failure to exercise the required caution and diligence in signing and approving all documents presented to him by his subordinates without verifying its compliance with RA 9184 constitutes gross inexcusable negligence,” he stressed.

After he was handed a not guilty verdict, Abalos said in an interview that his acquittal could not be more timely since it would motivate his wife, Corazon, to fight for her life. Abalos and his wife tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year. While he has recovered, she is still battling the disease.