MANILA, Philippines – The 5th division of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Thursday, December 22, acquitted Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito and 5 co-accused of graft charges over the supposed misuse of San Juan City calamity funds when the senator was its mayor.
Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Roland Jurado, in a 45-page resolution, granted a demurrer to evidence because the prosecution’s evidence failed to overcome the presumption of innocence.
According to the court, none of the accused need to present their own evidence because the case filed against them was not enough to establish their guilt.
Also acquitted with Ejercito were San Juan city administrator Ranulfo Barte Dacalos, city legal officer Romualdo Corpuz de los Santos, special assistant to the city mayor Lorenza Catalan Ching, and former city officials Rosalinda Marasigan and Danilo Mercado.
“It is primordial to restate that it is fundamental that the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fail on its own merit. The presumption of innocence is not a mere procedural tool of the law. It is not overcome by the presumption of regularity; indeed, it can be rebutted only by proof beyond reasonable doubt,” read the decision, which both associate justices Rafael Lagos and Maria Theresa Mendoza Arcega concurred with.
The case involves the alleged unlawful diversion of P2.1 million ($45,360) in calamity funds for the purchase of high-powered firearms for the city’s police department. The transaction was completed in 2008, when Ejercito was San Juan mayor.
The Sandiganbayan division, however, said the prosecution failed to prove undue injury to government because the evidence they provided showed that the circumstances of the award of the contract to the lone supplier was adequate.
In a statement, Ejercito thanked the justices “for remaining true to their duty of upholding justice and fairness.”
He said: “All throughout this process, I have been firm on two things: one, that I am innocent of the charges filed against me, and, two, that I have faith in the fairness of our judicial system. These beliefs have been reaffirmed by this decision by the Sandiganbayan.”
The mayor-turned-senator said the Sandiganbayan ruling absolving him of graft charges “should give our dedicated public servants, especially those in local government, the assurance that for as long as we have the interest of our people at heart, our justice system will protect us from those whose intention is to sow intrigue and whose motivations are purely partisan.”
He said he was looking forward to return to his duties as a lawmaker senator. The senator, however, still faces a different case for technical malversation charged before the 6th division of the Sandiganbayan.
In August, the anti-graft court ordered the 90-day suspension of Ejercito. While the Senate committee on rules was still studying the matter, he voluntarily served his suspension starting in November. – Rappler.com