The Sandiganbayan has acquitted three former officials of the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) of their graft charges involving P13.3 million in financial grants to six cooperatives in 2004.
Cleared were former CDA Board Administrator Wendell B. Reyes Sr., Finance Division Chief Gertrudes M. San Diego, and Marissa M. Estanislao, private secretary of the late Vice Chairman Ombre S. Hamsirani.
On April 19, 2004, they were charged — together with the late acting CDA Chairman Ruben M. Conti, Hamsirani, and Board Administrator Nicetas V. Torres — with giving undue advantage to the Zamboanga Multi-Purpose Trading Cooperative, Dried Fish Dealers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, ERA Integrated Development Cooperative, Badjao Cultural Community Multi-Purpose Cooperative, South Sea Marine Products Processing Cooperative, and Isabela Fish Bularan Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
The charges against Conti and Hamsirani had been dismissed on account of their deaths. The case against Torres has been ordered archived because he remained at-large.
The prosecution alleged that the accused released and approved the P13.3 million financial grants without authority or permit from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and with no special allotment release order (SARO), among many other things.
During trial, the court noted the letter of Hamsirani to then DBM Secretary Emilia T. Boncodin on Feb. 12, 2004 requesting authority to use P13.3 million as financial grants to the six cooperative-beneficiaries.
Case records showed that on March 19, 2004, the CDA board held a special meeting and ordered the release of the funds through Resolution No. 120, s.2004.
Despite the reservations expressed by San Diego, the CDA board pushed through with the release of the funds.
San Diego signed the disbursement vouchers, while Reyes signed the checks. Estanislao received and deposited the checks to the accounts of the cooperatives.
It was only on April 29, 2004 when the DBM finally replied and denied the request for the issuance of a SARO.
In its decision, the Sandiganbayan stressed that it was wrong for the CDA to rely solely on its resolution in approving the grants and the funds used should have been reverted back to the National Treasury.
However, the court also stated that the law protects those who acted in good faith and relied on an invalid or illegal provision of law.
The court said: “It must be noted that the accused did not participate in the crafting of the invalid CDA memorandum circular as it was issued by the previous set of Board of Administrators. In the absence of positive proof of bad faith, it can be interpreted to show good faith of the accused.”
Among the three accused who stood trial, the court found that only Reyes was involved in the approval of the grants to the cooperative-beneficiaries, while San Diego and Estanislao were involved only in the release of the checks.
Since the prosecution was unable to prove that Reyes acted with criminal intent sufficient to impute evident bad faith, the court ruled to accord Reyes with the benefit of reasonable doubt.
Associate Justice Michael Frederick L. Musngi wrote the 23-page decision dated March 12, 2021 with the concurrence of Associate Justices Lorifel L. Pahimna and Kevin Narce B. Vivero.
Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez and Karl B. Miranda concurred and dissented in the ruling.