Six former officials of the municipality of Gumaca in the province of Quezon have been found not guilty of graft and estafa through falsification charges by the Sandiganbayan in relation to the purchase of an allegedly overpriced vehicle back in 2003.
Found not guilty are Municipal Administrator Jose Pepon Olivera, Clerk III Leo Lota, Municipal Budget Officer and bids and awards committee (BAC) member Flores Magsino, acting Municipal Accountant and BAC member Susan Ladlad, and Municipal Treasurer and BAC member Susan Christine Villanueva.
Since the late Mayor Juanito Bañal passed away on July 13, 2019, the anti-graft court said he was extinguished totally of any criminal liability.
They were initially slapped with charges of violation of Section 3(g) of R.A. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Articles 315 and 171, in relation to Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code also known as Estafa through Falsification of Public Documents.
The local officials reportedly conspired with Aristedes Lindog, owner of Ericar Motors, when they purchased one AUV with 4BEI Engine-10 series semi-stainless with registration in the amount of P380,000 even though the purchase amount of the same vehicle is only P100,000, as evidenced by Deed of Sale of Motor Vehicle dated October 15, 2003 entered into by Bañal with Lipa Trading Center.
In its ruling, the anti-graft court said there was no convincing evidence that the accused conspired to commit the charge being imputed to them. At the same time, the court was not convinced that the contract was grossly disadvantageous to the government.
“The prosecution failed to present evidence setting the standard or parameter upon which to lay the basis of what may be considered just or reasonable price of the purchase made from Ericar Motor Works,” the decision explained.
“It did not offer other proof that a vehicle with the same specification costs less than that of the purchased vehicle such that the price difference is obviously flagrant.”
In fact, the anti-graft court noted that Ericar Motor Works won the bidding since it offered the lowest price for the vehicle. Its other competitors quoted P391,000 and P405,000.
The court added that the accused made no untruthful statements in all the documents involved in the purchase of the vehicle.
“In all, the Court finds that the prosecution failed to establish with the required quantum of proof the liability of the accused for the crimes charged with convincing, credible, and independently verifiable proof,” the decision read.
The 32-page decision was written by Second Division Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. with the concurrence of Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Lorifel Pahimna.