The Sandiganbayan Third Division has overturned the conviction of Ephraim Mendoza Maniquis, barangay captain of Zone 4, District 1 in Manila, by the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 47.
Maniquis was initially found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and was sentenced to six to nine years imprisonment and ordered to return P80,000 to Franco G.C. Espiritu.
The case stemmed from the P80,000 received and requested for by Maniquis on April 21 to 22, 2012 from FRCGE Trading, through its proprietor Espiritu, as “advance share” for a contract to provide Barangay 52, Zone 4, District 1 of Manila various items and materials.
Maniquis told the anti-graft court that the RTC made a “reversible error” in finding him guilty despite the fact that the evidence presented by the prosecution was based on self-serving testimonies and doubtful documentary evidence.
He argued that Espiritu’s bare allegations, together with the alleged handwritten acknowledgment receipts, are not enough to sustain his conviction.
The anti-graft court found his submissions meritorious. “After a painstaking assessment of the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution, the Court finds that it has not succeeded in proving the guilt of the accused-appellant with the exacting quantum of proof that is needed to convict,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The anti-graft court explained that the receipts alone do not sufficiently show how Espiritu demanded and received a “kickback” from Espiritu. “A reading of the receipts shows that they could have been executed in connection with any barangay project and for any purpose, not necessarily as an acknowledgment of receiving a kickback.”
It said that crimes involving corrupt practices are particularly difficult to prove because of their hidden nature, and the prosecution mostly relies on one witnesses, usually the giver or the person whom something has been demanded.
However, the Sandiganbayan stressed that the threshold for this is the word “credible.” In this case, the court said it cannot ascribe good faith to the testimony of Espiritu and the acknowledgment of the receipts.
Maniquis consistently said that the original of the receipts have never been show to him, and the ones that were offered as evidence are mere photocopies. At the same time, there is an unexplained incongruence between the dates mentioned in the front and dorsal portions of the receipts, which raises serious doubt on its trustworthiness.
“Consequently, the court now doubts whether the accused-appellant actually executed this acknowledgment receipt on the date that Espiritu claimed in his testimony or whether the accused-appellant even actually executed this document as claimed,” the Sandiganbayan said in a 25-page decision penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and concurred in by Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Ronald Moreno.