Sandigan allows accused to stand as state witness in P81-M graft, malversation charges vs ex-Ilocos Sur town officials

The Sandiganbayan has allowed the use of an accused as state witness in the alleged P81 million graft and misappropriation charges filed against two former mayors and two other town officials of Narvacan in Ilocos Sur.


Charged with graft and malversation of public funds were former Narvacan mayor Zuriel S. Zaragosa and his father, also former mayor Edgardo Zaragoza, and municipal accountant Melody Cadacio, education research assistant Mario G. Cabinte, and Federation of Farmers of Narvacan-Ilocos Sur president Constante A. Cabitac.


Prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) alleged that the accused caused injury to the municipality by reportedly misappropriating P81 million intended for the benefit of the farmers’ federation.


The prosecutors claimed that the fund was sourced from taxes on locally-manufactured Virginia-type cigarettes under Republic Act No. 7171, the law on the promotion and development of farmers in Virginia tobacco producing provinces.


In a motion filed by the OMB prosecutors, the Sandiganbayan was asked to discharge Cabintac as an accused to be utilized as state witness since his testimony is "indispensable and absolutely necessary to complete" their evidence.


The prosecutors also told the anti-graft court that there is no other direct evidence available to support their contention that the accused misappropriated the P81 million public funds.


In a resolution issued last Aug. 18, the anti-graft court granted the motion. "While the testimonies of the other prosecution witnesses tend to establish the alleged misappropriation of funds, the evidence that would prove that it was, indeed, accused Zaragozas, in connivance with Cadacio and Cabinte, who carried out the plan to misappropriate the funds can only be supplied by accused Cabitac," the court ruled.


"Aside from Cabitac, the prosecution has not presented any witness who purports to have first-hand knowledge and direct participation in the misappropriation of funds sourced from the municipality's share of local excise taxes on locally-manufactured Virginia-type cigarettes. Neither has any of the other accused indicated willingness to testify on the alleged misappropriation," it added.


With its ruling, the anti-graft court set the continuation of the presentation of the prosecution's evidence on Aug. 23 at 8:30 a.m.


Associate Justice Arthur O. Malabaguio wrote the 27-page resolution with the concurrence of Second Division Chairperson Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Edgardo M. Caldona.