MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Caloocan City Mayor Enrico “Recom” Echiverri of graft in connection to an P8-million drainage project when he was local chief executive.
It was Echiverri’s first victory among the dozens of corruption cases he is facing before the Sandiganbayan.
The Sandiganbayan’s First Division also acquitted Echiverri’s former city accountant, Edna Centeno, and city budget officer Jesusa Garcia of one count each of graft and falsification of public documents.
The charges stemmed from a road improvement and drainage project in Barangay 178 in Caloocan City in 2011. Prosecutors said Echiverri awarded the contract without prior authorization from the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP).
Echiverri faces 43 other sets of corruption cases stemming mostly from road projects.
The prosecution said that Echiverri “acted with evident bad faith when he approved ordinances without indicating the specific projects.” Prosecutors added that Echiverri violated the Local Government Code when he did not seek authorization from the city council.
Echiverri has always argued that the Commission on Audit (COA) cleared the disbursements. The Sandiganbayan sided with him in the case of the P8-million drainage project.
“The COA itself conceded that there was no violation of the procurement laws after the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) observed the strict legal process before the project was recommended for approval by the accused mayor,” said Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona in his 40-page decision, with concurrences from Associate Justices Efren De la Cruz and Geraldine Faith Econg.
The justices noted that the SP “did not disown the disbursement when they had every opportunity to exclude it from ratification.”
The graft aspect, which was causing undue injury to the government, was also not proven, according to the Sandiganbayan.
“After its completion, the city government undeniably derived benefits therefrom up to the present. No less than prosecution witness Esperanza Martinez admitted that the City of Caloocan continues to benefit from the omnibus term loan up to the year 2016,” the court said.
The court had earlier granted Echiverri’s motion for leave to file a demurrer of evidence, which means that after the prosecution rested its case during trial, Echiverri no longer presented evidence and relied on the weak presentation of the prosecution.
On April 6, Ombudsman prosecutors charged Echiverri anew with 9 more counts of graft. It involves P37.72 million in public funds spent on various infrastructure projects which were allegedly released without the prior authorization from the city council. – Rappler.com