MANILA, Philippines The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has acquitted Senator Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito of technical malversation over the alleged unlawful diversion of San Juan's calamity fund when he was city chief.
In a 23-page decision promulgated by the Sandiganbayan's Sixth Division on Thursday, August 10, the court dismissed the case against Ejercito based on the prosecution's failure to provide sufficient proof that the calamity fund was used to purchase P2.1 million worth of firearms for the city police in 2008.
"After a careful asessment of the documentary and testimonial evidence of the prosecution, the Court finds that the said evidence failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the fund used in the procurement and payment of the said high-powered firearms or part thereof was sourced from the 2008 San Juan City calamity fund," read the decision penned by Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada with concurrences from Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Michael Frederick Musngi.
Under the law, calamity funds can be used only for purposes provided by law.
The court gave weight to the testimonies of San Juan's former budget officer and accountant, who testified that the documents of the prosecution did not link the firearms procurement to the calamity fund.
Former budget officer Liza San Juan Tomico also said that by the end of 2008, the city's calamity fund remained intact.
Former city accountant Alicia Cruz Barazon earlier filed a judicial affidavit saying Tomico charged the firearms expense to the calamity fund while waiting for an allotment.
Tomico would eventually testify that she charged the firearms to the general fund; Barazon would say the same.
In his separate concurring opinion, however, Miranda said the documents clearly prove the firearms were charged to the calamity funds.
"Thereafter, the Sangguniang Panglunsod of San Juan passed a supplemental budget that was used to replenish the calamity fund and a correction of the supposed error charging the firearms to the calamity fund," Miranda said.
Miranda said, however, that even if such were the case, there was still no commission of technical malversation, since firearms procurement can fall under disaster preparedness, and can be sourced from calamity funds.
"Purchase of firearms as a means to prevent criminal and terrorist activities is still considered the government's disaster preparedness and pre-disaster activities," Miranda said.
Ejercito had earlier justified the 2008 firearms purchase as the city's deterrent against "the spike of criminal incidents within the metropolis such as robbery-holdup, kidnap for ransom, and gun for hire."
In December 2016, Ejercito and several San Juan officials were acquitted of graft in connection with the same purchase. With this latest acquittal, Ejercito is officially cleared of corruption cases at the Sandiganbayan.
In a statement, Ejercito said he was "just grateful that my name has been cleared and redeemed from charges" after nearly two years, or since the charges were filed against him in December 2015.
"All throughout this two-year 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 just been reaffirmed by the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division decision acquitting me from technical malversation," he said. – Rappler.com