SC upholds prison term for Sarangani woman for misappropriating P20K in gov’t funds
The Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of the daughter of the late vice governor of Sarangani for misappropriating P20,000 in public funds through a fake letter-request for financial assistance.
The court’s Second Division, voting unanimously, denied the certiorari suit filed by Amelia Carmela Constantino-Zoleta seeking the reversal of her conviction by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in November 2008, which sentenced her to 14 to 16 years in jail.
Zoleta, daughter and executive assistant of the late Vice Gov. Felipe Constantino, was found guilty by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Divion for conspiring with her father and three others for malversation of public funds by falsification of public documents as defined and penalized under Article 217 in relation to Articles 71 (2) and 48 of the Revised Penal Code.
“The connivance between the accused is made more glaring by the fact that the entire transaction–from the letter-request, to the approval of the disbursement voucher, until the processing and release of the check—was completed in only one day,” the court said in the 13-page decision written by Justice Arturo Brion.
The chair of the division, Justice Antonio Carpio, and members Justices Jose Mendoza, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen, concurred in the ruling.
The court increased the maximum prison term meted on Zoleta to 18 years in accordance with the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
The case stemmed from an anonymous complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao about questionable grants and donations to fictitious entities using provincial funds.
The Commission on Audit undertook a special audit and uncovered several irregularities, among them a P20,000-financial assistance given in January 2002 to Women in Progress, a cooperative whose members were mostly government personnel or relatives of provincial office.
The Ombudsman later indicted Zoleta, her father, provincial accountant Maria Camanay and provincial board member Teodorico Diaz, together with private respondent Violeta Bahilidad for misappropriating P20,000 by making it appear that the WIP was seeking financial assistance.
Constantino died in a vehicular accident in April 2006 resulting in the dismissal of the case against him.
On Nov. 5, 2008, the Sandiganbayan found the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced them to suffer 14 up to 16 years in prison and disqualified them from holding any public office in perpetuity. They were also directed to return the P20,000 plus interest.
The Sandiganbayan found out that the vice governor conspired with the other accused in using the WIP as dummy to facilitate the malversation. It was through Zoleta, WIP president, that a fake antedated request for assistance was sent, complete with the falsified signature of the cooperative’s secretary. The request was then presented to Camanay, Diaz and the vice governor for their signatures.
The government check for P20,000 was issued in the name of Bahilidad, the WIP treasurer. She earlier filed her own review petition and was acquitted in March 2010 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that she encashed the check and distributed the P20,000 as loans to several members of the cooperative in good faith.
Zoleta, also insisting on her innocence and claiming her right to due process was violated, elevated the case to the Supreme Court. She also claimed that the Sandiganbayan decision was void because one of its members, justice Gregory Ong, was allegedly a non-natural-born Filipino citizen and therefore disqualified from being justice.
The Supreme Court, however, said Zoleta’s petition lacked merit and that the Sandiganbayan correctly convicted her. The high tribunal said the Ombudsman was able to prove that there was malversation and that there was indeed conspiracy to misappropriate public funds.
The justices also said that they were aware of Bahilidad’s acquittal but added that this did mean that the other accused were also not guilty.
“We point out that Bahilidad’s acquittal was anchored on the fact that she had no hand in the preparation, processing or disbursing of the check issued in her name. It cannot be denied in the present case that the [accused] all participated in the preparation and processing of [fake request forfinancial assistance],” the justices said.
As for the issue on justice Ong’s citizenship, the court noted that the justice completed in 2007 the required proceedings and documentation to be recognized as a natural-born Filipino. Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.