Sandiganbayan drops graft case vs ex-Bulacan mayor, wife, sis-in-law
MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has dropped the graft case filed against the former mayor of Baliuag, Bulacan and two others in connection with the lease of public market stalls after the prosecution failed to prove their guilt.
In a resolution dated March 12, 2019, the Sandiganbayan Second Division said that documents presented as evidence against former Baliuag Mayor Romeo Maniego Estrella and his co-accused were not verified as true original copies.
Estrella was accused of taking advantage of his position when he approved the lease of three market stalls inside Block 3 of the Baliuag Shopping Complex for his sister-in-law, Renita Viceo Domingo.
Domingo then subleased two of the stalls to Estrella’s wife, Sonia Viceo Estrella.
The former local executive supposedly violated Section 4, Paragraph (c) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, as well as local ordinances which prohibits the lease of more than two stalls per client.
After the prosecution had finished presenting their evidence, Estrella filed a motion for leave to file a demurrer to evidence, seeking the dismissal of the case.
In the 17-page resolution, the anti-graft court noted that even the prosecution’s witness — the officer-in-charge of the Office of the Ombudsman’s Records Division — admitted that she did not have the original copies of the documentary evidence.
In addition to that, the court said that the Records Division’s OIC was not the right person to attest to the authenticity of the documents.
“The court notes, however, that when [Acting Chief Administrative Officer Joanna Mae] Alberto was presented in Court on 19 September 2018, she did not make any attestation that the copy of the Pagkakaloob ng Puesto Fijo sa Baliwag Shopping Complex offered by the prosecution is the correct copy of the original,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“This withstanding, the Court notes that based in Sections 24 and 25, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, Alberto was not the legal custodian referred to in the rules, who should attest that the said […] were correct copies of the original,” the court added.
Aside from these issues, the court also mentioned that the prosecution failed to present the private complainant and other witnesses to prove that Estrella’s actions were done in bad faith.
“It is well stated that in the trial of every criminal case, a judge must rigidly test the State’s evidence of guilt in order to ensure that such evidence adheres to the basic rules of admissibility before pronouncing an accused guilty of the crime charged upon such evidence,” the court said.
With the decision, the hold departure orders against Estrella and the two others had been lifted, while bail bonds they posted were ordered released. /atm
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