Echiverri acquitted of graft case; 43 more cases to go
Barely nine months after his July 3 indictment for an P8-million graft case, former Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri has won his first-ever acquittal.
In a 40-page decision dated April 16, the Sandiganbayan’s First Division granted the demurrer filed by Echiverri on the case involving an P8-million road and drainage system project awarded to P.B. Grey Construction in October 2011.
City accountant Edna Centeno and city budget officer Jesusa Garcia were likewise acquitted of graft and falsification charges.
Since the prosecution’s evidence was too weak to stand on its own, the court found no more need to require Echiverri and his subordinates to present evidence to defend themselves in the trial.
The three officials, however, still face 43 pending sets of cases concerning P227.57-million worth of infrastructure projects.
The projects have been questioned by the Ombudsman for allegedly lacking the prior authorization and appropriation by the Sangguniang Panlungsod.
Prosecutors began filing multiple related charges on March 7, 2017 and new cases have been brought as recently as last April 6.
The Commission on Audit on June 15, 2017 lifted the disallowance of a total of P1.06 billion in irregularly spent funds, on the ground that the council’s belated ratification of the projects cured the irregularities.
This threw a wrench to the Ombudsman’s cases.
In acquitting Echiverri of the P8.08-million graft case, the Sandiganbayan relied on the COA decision, saying it “bears considerable persuasive effect in the disposition of these cases.”
The court said the prosecution could not hold Echiverri and his subordinates liable based on notices of disallowance that have already been set aside.
“Effectively, the instant charges have become crippled sans any support to withstand the heavy burden of the constitutional requirement that a prosecution should be based on evidence beyond reasonable doubt in order to convict,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Edgardo M. Caldona.
The court found that Echiverri did not act in bad faith when he entered into the contract with P.B. Grey for the improvement of the road and drainage system at Phase 6, Green Valley, Barangay 178.
It said the Sangguniang Panlungsod’s January 2010 approval of Supplemental Budget No. 1, which contained lump-sum appropriations for unspecified infrastructure projects, already met the requirement of a prior appropriation ordinance.
The list of specific projects funded by that loan-sourced supplemental budget was later confirmed and ratified by the council in 2012, after the contracts were awarded by Echiverri.
The court also noted that the COA did not find any violation of the procurement laws. For the court, this meant “the city government undeniably derived benefits [from the assailed projects] up to the present.”
Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz and Geraldine Faith A. Econg concurred in the decision.
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