Sandiganbayan acquits former Makati officials in P72-M graft case
MANILA, Philippines – Two former officials of Makati who were charged with graft due to the purchase of P72.06 million worth of furniture and partitions for the city hall in 1999 have been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan.
In a decision from the Fifth Division dated Feb. 21, the anti-graft court said that the evidence presented against former General Services department head Ernesto Aspillaga and former city treasurer Luz Yamane were insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict.
Both Aspillaga and Yaman were the co-accused of former Mayor Elenita Binay in the graft case.
In the information on the case, the accused and other Makati officials allegedly gave unwarranted benefits to Office Gallery International when they purchased supposedly overpriced materials for the new city hall.
Binay was acquitted in March 2019 when the court granted her demurrer to evidence, as there was no other evidence against her except Aspillaga’s testimony.
This argument was repeated by the court in its decision, saying that the prosecution had no direct evidence against Binay and the other accused.
The Sandiganbayan banked on testimonies of Aspillaga, who said that the purchases were committed legally — with the state auditors attesting to it.
The prosecution previously moved to discharge Aspillaga as a state witness — a step seen by the court as an admission that there was no other evidence aside from Aspillaga’s testimony.
“[…] in his testimony before the Court, Aspillaga has denied any irregularity in the bidding and procurement processes. He also asserted that the purchases in question of the Makati City government were in order, and that this was validated through a regular audit conducted by the resident auditor assigned at that time,” the decision written by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos said.
The court also refuted the prosecution’s claims that no bidding took place, showing a copy of the notification letter sent to the company to inform them that they won the bidding. Despite the discrepancies in the dates noted, Sandiganbayan said that these might merely be typographic errors.
“While the notification letter of award can be viewed as evidence of some form of irregularity in the procurement process, such as a simulated or rigged bidding, the contents of the letter also give rise to the possibility that there was merely an error in encoding the date of the notification,” the court added.
With the decision, the hold departure orders issued against the respondents were lifted and set aside, while the bail bonds they posted were ordered released.
They were also not required to pay any civil damages as there was no liability that arose out of from the decision.
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