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The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has allowed a co-accused in the graft cases against former National Tobacco Administration (NTA) chief Edgardo Zaragoza and his son to turn state witness.
The court agreed with prosecutors that the testimony of Constante Cabitac, former president of the Federation of Farmers of Narvacan in Ilocos Sur, is “indispensable and absolutely necessary.” This was stated in an August 18 resolution signed by Associate Justice Arthur Malabaguio and concurred with by Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr. and Edgardo Caldona.
Zaragoza and his son Zuriel, former Narvacan mayor, were indicted for graft and malversation of public funds in May 2022 based on a complaint initiated by former Ilocos Sur governor Luis “Chavit” Singson. The co-accused include Narvacan municipal accountant Melody Cadacio and research assistant Mario Cabinte.
They stand accused of allegedly defrauding farmers of P81 million from the tobacco excise tax funds collected based on Republic Act 7171.
The prosecution has presented 11 other witnesses, including bank executives, state auditors, Narvacan municipal officials, and Singson.
However, the Sandiganbayan ruled that only Cabitac can provide direct evidence to strengthen the prosecution’s case.
Cabitac personally encashed Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) checks, amounting to P81 million, in 2016. These checks were issued in his name because he was the president of the Federation of Farmers of Narvacan, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors stated that during these transactions, Cabitac alleged he was accompanied by Cabinte and Cadacio, and they traveled together in an armored vehicle to Zuriel’s house. There, Cabitac allegedly handed over the entire amount to the former mayor.
The prosecution argued that Cabitac’s testimony was necessary to connect the documentary and testimonial evidence against Zaragoza, Cabinte, and Cadacio.
The defense lawyer objected to the prosecution’s move, asserting that Cabitac didn’t meet the requirements to be discharged as a co-accused so he could testify for the prosecution. They maintained that there was no evidence to support Cabitac’s claims.
The anti-graft court, however, disagreed and pointed out that in many criminal cases, those directly involved have important and firsthand information that leads to convictions. – Rappler.com