Ex-DA usec acquitted of falsifying SALN
MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan has acquitted a former Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary of two perjury counts stemming from allegations of falsifying her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).
In the Seventh Division’s decision dated August 9, former undersecretary Belinda Gonzales was acquitted of the charges as the prosecution failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Gonzales was accused of stating in her 2006 and 2007 SALNs that she acquired a house in Project 6, Quezon City worth P2.6 million, while complainants claimed it was bought for only P900,000 according to the house’s deed of sale.
However, the anti-graft court said that the evidence presented cannot prove that Gonzales’ wrong attribution in her SALN was done willfully and deliberately. The decision, penned by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses, noted that the P900,000 price tag referred to the parcel of land, and not the house itself.
“It is true that the Deed of Absolute Sale dated 7 November 2002 executed between Elizabeth Hael and accused indicated the amount of P900,000.00 as the purchase price of the former’s real property,” the court said.
“It is also clear from a reading of the same Deed of Absolute Sale that the object of the sale between them was a ‘parcel of land… situated in Brgy. Proj, 6, Q. City, Metro Manila’,” it added.
Sandiganbayan also cited the evidence presented by the defense, that the accused sought for a loan from Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) to improve the townhouse. RCBC’s Appraisal Report of the property also coincides with Gonzales’ declarations in both of her SALNs concerned.
“Manifestly, the bank appraised the value the townhouse at P1,680,000.00. For this reason, accused’s declaration in her 2005 and 2006 SALNs that the acquisition cost of her townhouse is P1,700,000.00 is believable, being just P20,000.00 short of the bank’s appraisal,” the anti-graft court noted.
They also banked on a document required by RCBC before the release of Gonzales’ loan. According to the “proof of full downpayment prior to loan release’ which shows the P200,000 given to house developer Arthur Ignacio, the total purchase price for the house was P2.6 million.
It was also established that the accused would not gain anything from allegedly bloating the price of her house.
“In the present case, the prosecution failed to prove any evil intent or legal malice, which might have prompted accused to declare the alleged falsity in her 2005 and 2006 SALNs,” Sandiganbayan said.
“Moreover, Atty. Mendoza, of the Graft Investigation and Prosecution Office, even testified that accused would not have gained any advantage or benefit from her declaration of the acquisition cost of the said house and lot in her SALNs,” she added.
Aside from this, the anti-graft court also noted that SALN’s are filed to promote transparency in government, and to prevent questionable accumulation of wealth that is usually done by not disclosing assets and properties in hand.
With the decision, the hold departure order issued against Gonzales have been ordered lifted, and her bail bond released subject to the usual accounting and auditing procedures.
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