Sandiganbayan junks JV’s malversation raps

By ADRIAN STEWART CO

MANILA – The Sandiganbayan absolved Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and several others from technical malversation in relation to the purchase of high-powered firearms using calamity funds when he was still mayor of San Juan City.
In a decision released yesterday, the sixth division of Sandiganbayan granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Ejercito and 14 others. It also lifted the hold departure order against the respondents.
A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss filed by the accused after the prosecution has finished presenting evidence. It is filed if the accused thinks the evidence presented is insufficient.
“Let it be stressed that this verdict of acquittal is based on the failure of the prosecution to present proof beyond reasonable doubt that the accused indeed used the 2008 calamity fund of San Juan City in the procurement and payment of the subject firearms,” it said.
“It must be remembered that in criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution and unless it discharges that burden, the herein accused need not even offer evidence in their behalf and they would be entitled to acquittal,” the anti-graft court added.
Aside from the Bacolodnon senator, all acquitted were Leonardo Celles, Andoni Miguel Carballo, Vincent Rainer Pacheco, Angelino Mendoza, Dante Santiago, Rolando Bernardo, Grace Perdines, Domingo Sese, Francis Keith Peralta, Edgardo Soriano, Jannah Ejercito-Surla, Francisco Javier Zamora, Ramon Nakpil, and Joseph Christopher Torralba.
The case stemmed from the alleged unlawful diversion of P2.1 million in calamity funds for the purchase of high-powered firearms for the city’s police department when Ejercito was still San Juan mayor.
The Sangguniang Panlungsod passed City Ordinance No. 9 authorizing Ejercito to continue with the purchase of 3 model K2 cal. 5.56mm sub-machine guns and 17 units of Daewoo model K1 cal. 5.56mm sub-machines guns.
Under Department of Budget and Management – Department of Interior and Local Government (DBM-DILG) Circular No. 2003-1, high-powered firearms “are not among the items contemplated for disaster relief and mitigation.”
The Office of the Ombudsman said in its case filed before the Sandiganbayan that during that time San Juan was not under a state of calamity, there was also not enough public bidding conducted and the bid documents were dated earlier than the publication of the invitation to bid.
Ejercito, however, claimed that the purchase of the high-powered firearms was the city’s deterrent against “the spike of criminal incidents within the metropolis such as robbery-holdup, kidnap for ransom, and gun for hire.”
He added that the Commission on Audit did not issue a Notice of Disallowance to the San Juan government then, which he said was enough proof that there was “no anomaly or malversation” in the transaction./PN