Sandiganbayan clears private person with acquittal of co-accused public officials

Published April 26, 2021, 11:16 AM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Sandiganbayan has acquitted a private individual whose co-accused public officials have been cleared of the graft charges filed against them.

Acquitted was Jesse M. Penaranda, owner of Colt Marketing, who was among those charged with violations of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for alleged irregular contracts involving the supply of pharmaceutical products from 1996 to 1998.

Also charged were former Surigao del Norte Governor Francisco T. Matugas, Provincial Treasurer Antioco L. Bonono, Provincial Accountant Daisy D. Andit, Provincial Budget Officer Virginia S. Yuipco, Provincial Services Officer Zenon T. Eupeña, Provincial Administrator Carlos M. Ebay, and Assistant Provincial Administrator Sally L. Plaza.

Private individuals charged in the complaints were Beruth Medical Enterprises, Inc. representative Joemel S. Tinio-Yu and President Francisco N. Reyez; Medicine Trading, Inc. President Vivian P. Ortiz and St. Martin Pharmaceutical Lab, Inc. President Ernesto S. Bravo.

The prosecution alleged that from Oct. 1996 to Feb. 1998, the public officials gave unwarranted benefits and advantage to five drug companies by illegally awarding them contracts for the supply of pharmaceutical products for the Pambahay sa Barangay outreach program through “rigged bidding.”

On Aug. 4, 2009, the anti-graft court dismissed the charges against Matugas, Egay, Tinio-Yu, Andit, Yuipco, Eupeña, Plaza, and Bravo when it granted their demurrer to evidence. The court ruled that the prosecution’s evidence failed to prove all essential elements of graft.

The cases against Ortiz and Reyez have been ordered archived pending their arrest.

Penaranda appeared before the court last Dec. 20. He entered a not guilty plea when arraigned last Jan. 8.

In the April 23, 2021 decision written by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg, the anti-graft court said that for any individual to be found guilty of graft, he or she “must be a public officer discharging administrative, judicial, or official functions.”

Since the court had already dismissed the charges against the public officials involved, the court said that Penaranda must also be held innocent of the charges against him.

“In a conspiracy, the criminal liability incurred by a co-conspirator is also incurred by other co-conspirators. In the same manner, the acquittal of one co-conspirator on the ground of insufficiency of evidence, extends to all the other co-conspirators,” the anti-graft court said.

“Penaranda cannot be convicted, on his own, as a private person. With the acquittal of his co-accused public officials, the first element of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 could not be met,” the court stressed.

Associate Justices Efren N. De La Cruz and Edgardo M. Caldona concurred in the 20-page decision.