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MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has rejected the plea of former National Tobacco Administration (NTA) chief Edgardo Zaragoza and his son to keep the sworn statements of former Ilocos Sur governor Luis “Chavit” Singson from being admitted as evidence in connection with the graft charges on the alleged misuse of P81 million in tobacco excise tax funds.
The objections were raised by Zaragoza and his son Zuriel, asserting that Singson’s affidavits of complaint were inadmissible as evidence concerning the two counts of graft charges against them.
The Singsons and Zaragozas are Ilocos Sur political clans that have a long history of political rivalry in the province. Edgardo and Zuriel are also former mayors of Narvacan.
The Zaragozas have argued that Singson’s complaint affidavit and joint reply affidavit were hearsay in that the allegations were supposedly culled from narrations merely relayed to the ex-governor.
Singson has alleged that the Zaragozas misused irregularly withdrawn funds intended for projects that would have benefited Narvacan’s tobacco farmers.
The Sandiganbayan, however, pointed out that Singson found out about alleged misuse and misappropriation and validated it using official documents submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Therefore, the contents of his (sworn statement) cannot be said to be hearsay to render inadmissible as evidence,” the anti-graft court ruled.
It also stated that the Ombudsman can initiate investigations based on anonymous complaints and build cases based on retrieved documents, witnesses, and statements from resource persons.
The Sandiganbayan pointed out that the charges against the Zaragozas were not merely based on Singson’s affidavits and went through the process of proper case build-up and validation of records.
The court stated, “Additionally, Singson took the witness stand in the course of the trial and was subjected to extensive cross-examination by all of the accused.”
The Sandiganbayan also rejected the Zaragozas’ opposition to the admission of the affidavit of Constante Cabitac, former president of the Federation of Farmers of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, a defendant who turned state witness. The accused asserted that Cabitac’s sworn statement was self-serving and riddled with inconsistencies.
The Sandiganbayan said that it has already ruled that Cabitac’s testimony showed firsthand knowledge and his direct involvement in the alleged misappropriation of funds in that transactions were made by him as the former president of FFNI.
Cabitac has alleged that former municipal accountant Melody Cadacio and Education Research assistant Mario Cabinte, co-defendants, accompanied him, and they traveled together in an armored vehicle to the house of Zuriel Zaragoza, where he handed over the funds.
Prosecutors alleged that it was Cabitac who personally encashed Land Bank of the Philippines checks amounting to P81 million in 2016. They said the checks were issued in his name as FFNI president. – Rappler.com