MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan reversed the conviction for graft of former Nueva Ecija governor Tomas Joson III and two town mayors after granting their appeal.
The anti-graft court’s Special 7th Division voted 3-2 to acquit Joson, ex-Bongabon mayor Amelia Gamilla and ex-Quezon mayor Basilio Joson over the province’s donation of service vehicles to the mayors’ respective towns in 2007.
Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo was the ponente of the 50-page resolution promulgated on February 14, with Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Maryann Corpus Mañalac concurring. Associate Justices Maria Theresa Dolores Gomez Estoesta and Zaldy Trespeses stood by the original conviction, but were overruled.
In July 2019, Joson had been convicted of 3 counts of graft and would have served at least 18 years in jail. Gamilla was found guilty of two counts of graft and faced at least 12 years in jail, and ex-mayor Joson was convicted of one count of graft and could have served a minimum 6-year imprisonment.
The case was filed by then-incoming governor Aurelio Umali, who found out that the province did not have available service vehicles anymore.
An inventory showed that Joson was authorized by the provincial board in January 2007 to donate heavy equipment vehicles to various towns. But the then-governor also donated other service vehicles including two Ford vehicles, two Nissan vehicles, a Toyota vehicle, and a mobile clinic.
Quezon town got 3 vehicles – one from each car brand – and the mobile clinic, while Bongabon town got the rest.
The Sandiganbayan 7th Division, composed of Estoesta, Hidalgo, and Trespeses, earlier convicted the 3 officials, saying they acted in conspiracy and caused undue injury to the provincial government.
However, after Hidalgo changed her opinion on appeal, the special division was put together.
The court now said the province did not suffer undue injury, because the vehicles were donated, and there is “no evidence that would show how gross and manifest the disadvantage was.”
Mayors Gamilla and Joson “cannot be faulted,” the court also said, for requesting the donation of used machineries and vehicles.
“The perceived disadvantage to the provincial government of Nueva Ecija was negated by the benefits reaped by the municipalities of Quezon and Bongabon,” added the Sandiganbayan in its resolution.
In addition, the court said the presence of conspiracy among the 3 officials “was not duly proved.” – Rappler.com
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