Sandigan junks Elenita Binay’s P21.7-million graft case
Former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay has scored a victory in the Sandiganbayan, as the court dismissed a P21.7-million graft case filed over the alleged overpricing of furniture for the city hall in 2000.
In a 90-page decision dated Oct. 28, the antigraft court’s Fifth Division granted her demurrer. This effectively cleared her, then-general services department head Ernesto Aspillaga, other city officials, and the suppliers on grounds of insufficient evidence.
The court said prosecutors failed to establish the supposed conspiracy to rig the bidding in favor of supplier Asia Concept International, Inc.
Prosecutors also failed to prove that the bidding led to overpricing of P2.78 million and excessive purchases worth P5.91 million.
Because of this, the court said Binay and her co-accused could not be held liable for causing undue injury or giving unwarranted benefits to private parties under Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“In this case, the said punishable acts have not been so proven,” the ruling stated. “Accordingly, the instant case against all the accused… is ordered dismissed.”
A special division of five magistrates tackled Binay’s plea to dismiss the case on demurrer, with Justices Roland B. Jurado, Samuel R. Martires and Jose R. Hernandez making up the majority that voted in Binay’s favor.
The Office of the Ombudsman claimed there was collusion between Asia Concept and rival bidder Office Gallery International, Inc., as they were supposedly operated by the same person, Beda Aquino.
Prosecutors also showed two disbursement vouchers issued in September 1999 and October 2000 to Office Gallery and Asia Concept that both bore Aquino’s signature.
But, the court said Aquino was not even listed among Office Gallery’s stockholders and officers. It added the vouchers bearing his signatures would not prove his ownership of both firms, because of the length of time between the two transactions.
The court also disagreed that the issuance of the purchase order on Aug. 17, 2000—the day after the bidding just took place—indicated it was predetermined.
This was because the prosecution merely assumed the city officials did not undertake the proper procedures. “Clearly, it simply assumed that such post-qualification process could not be had in view of the alleged lack of time to do it,” the decision read.
Signatures prove nothing
As for Binay and other city officials, the court said that just because they signed the documents and vouchers throughout the procurement process does not imply they conspired to rig the bidding.
Their participation in the bidding process “would not necessarily indicate that the said acts were all geared toward the accomplishment of the unlawful objective of a simulated or rigged one,” the court said.
The court said prosecutors did not submit evidence to show city officials knew the process was marked by irregularities, and that Binay and Aspillaga issued the purchase order despite the supposed lack of public bidding.
“There must be other grounds other than the mere signature or approval appearing in a voucher to sustain conspiracy,” the decision read.
The court also rejected the contention that excessive purchases were made, as witnesses only compared the order with the furniture layout plan. It said prosecutors should have shown whether the “excessive” furniture actually went unused.
Meanwhile, the court disregarded the findings of an auditor that the furniture was overpriced, because she was not presented to testify and could not be cross-examined by defense lawyers. It also noted how auditors merely compared the prices of the purchased furniture with those of similar items without obtaining a more reliable price benchmark.
Two magistrates—Justices Geraldine Faith A. Econg and Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta—dissented from the decision and opined the evidence was enough to sustain the continuation of trial.
Other co-accused in the case include former city councilor Salvador Pangilinan, former city administrator Nicanor Santiago, Jr., and Asia Concept corporate officer Bernadette Aquino.
Binay still faces a separate case before the Fifth Division over the purchase of furniture and fixtures worth P72.06 million from Office Gallery in 1999.
She also faces another count of graft before the Fourth Division over the separate procurement of P13.25-million furniture pieces in 2000, as well as four graft and malversation cases before the Third Division over the purchase of P45-million worth of hospital beds and sterilizers for the city-run Ospital ng Makati in 2000 and 2001.
During the years leading to the May elections, the family of former Vice President and presidential contender Jejomar Binay has been beset by accusations of profiting from “moro-moro” biddings held just for show. JE/rga
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