Ex-mayor’s trial over unreturned gov’t vehicle to proceed

The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division is going to proceed with the graft and malversation trial against former Mayor Benjamin Salva Decena of Bula, Camarines Sur in relation to the unreturned government vehicle after his term ended.

The anti-graft court denied his motion for reconsideration on Friday. In his MR, Decena tried to convince the court to approve his demurrer to evidence, which would challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution's evidence to render a guilty verdict.

He argued that the court relied on his counter-affidavit when it ruled to deny his demurrer to evidence. Decena explained that the counter-affidavit was not formally offered as part of the prosecution's evidence, so the fact that the court cited it in denying his demurrer means that the prosecution did not present sufficient evidence to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The anti-graft court did agree with his argument; however, it still found the prosecution's evidence strong.

"While we submit to the argument that the counter-affidavit should not have been considered, we are not completely convinced to reconsider our stance so as to set aside the assailed resolution. As it stands, the prosecution's evidence is prima facie sufficient to prove the elements of the crimes," the resolution stated.

The court said in its resolution that the vehicle subject of the case could be anywhere, but when the prosecution rested its case, it was proven that Decena was the accountable public officer who had received it and had custody and control over it.

"Precisely in denying the demurrer to evidence, we are giving the accused his day in Court to present any and all evidence available to him in order to disprove or rebut the prosecution's prima facie documentary and testimonial evidence against him in these cases," the resolution read.

The seven-page resolution was written by Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Mendoza-Arcega with the concurrence of Fifth Division Chairperson Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Maryann Corpus-Mañalac.

In the charge sheet filed by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Allan John Atienza, Decena was accused of violating Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code.

On June 30, 2013, he took for his own personal use and benefit a government motor vehicle - a Mazda Bongo HSPUR 2011 model with plate number UTI-763 - with a unit cost of P499,999.

It was acquired by the municipality from Buhi. Decena was faulted for not turning it over to the municipality even after his term as mayor ended, to the damage and prejudice of the government.