The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Mayor Genevive G. Lim Reyes of Caluya, Antique of the graft case filed against her for reportedly ordering in 2014 the cutting of 245 coconut trees on a five-hectare land set as relocation site for displaced residents.
“Undoubtedly, the prosecution failed to meet the required quantum of evidence sufficient to support a conviction, in which case, the constitutional presumption of innocence prevails,” the anti-graft court said in a decision written by Associate Justice Maria Theresa V. Mendoza Arcega.
“To stress, when moral certainty as to culpability hangs in the balance, acquittal on reasonable doubt inevitably becomes a matter of right,” the decision stressed.
The complaint was filed by Juliet Ramos who claimed that Reyes as mayor in 2014, took advantage of her official position to “wilfully, unlawfully and criminally cause undue injury” to her (Ramos) by ordering the cutting of the coconut trees she planted and cultivated.
But the Sandiganbayan said the prosecution failed to prove that it was Reyes who did the cutting or ordered the cutting of the coconut trees.
The court said the photo evidence submitted by the prosecution depicted “a hundred coconut (trees) at most, without reference to its location.”
“This same observation goes with the alleged bulldozed coconut trees, the photo presented only shows a few cut trees as opposed to the claim that a couple of hundred were bulldozed/cut during the clearing operations,” it added.
The court, in effect, agreed with the defense that there were no coconut trees cut in the area which was affected by the clearing operations conducted by the town.
“It follows that since there was no coconut tree planted on the subject lot, the violation of Republic Act No. 8048 (Coconut Preservation Act) as amended by RA 10593 cannot be consummated,” it said.
It noted that the clearing operations were conducted by the municipal government to give access to the materials for its relocation site for displaced residents.
The anti-graft court also said: “It was not disputed that the objective of the clearing operations was for the access of the materials for the building of the relocation site for the displaced residents of Sitio Sabang, Caluya, Antique.”
“The complainant’s claim that the clearing operations ordered by herein accused deprived them of their income, however she failed to adduce evidence of actual loss,” the court said.
Associate Justices Rafael R. Ragos and Maryann E. Corpus Manalac concurred in the decision.