Sandiganbayan acquits ex-BENECO manager

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LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – The 6th Division of the Sandiganbayan acquitted the late Gerardo P. Verzosa, retired general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO), from the graft charges filed against him because of the failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

In a 40-page decision penned by Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero and concurred by Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez, Chairperson of the 6th Division, and Bernilita R. Fernandez, the Sandiganbayan also ordered the lifting and setting aside of the hold departure that was earlier issued against him.

Further, the cash bond posted by Verzosa for his provisional liberty was also ordered released subject to the usual auditing and accounting procedures.

The decision stated that ‘the evidence of the prosecution does not meet the test of moral certainty in order to establish that the accused conspired with the late Balbalan Mayor Kenneth Mangaoang to commit the offense charged. Since the supposed liability of the accused was based on the presence of conspiracy, which as earlier stated has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt, and there being no other evidence linking him to the supposed irregularities in the procurement of electric materials, the court sees no need to discuss the presence or absence of the other elements of the offense. The court’s duty now is to render a verdict of acquittal with respect to Verzosa.’

Records show that Verzosa was charged for alleged graft for having conspired with mayor Mangaoang, who is his brother-in-law, in the alleged irregular purchase of equipment and materials for Balbalan’s electrification project.

The court pointed out that in the said case, it found that there was no clear and intentional discrimination in charging Verzosa to the exclusion of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) members and the other personalities involved in the said transaction. Other than his bare allegation, the accused failed to impute, much less prove, any intentional or purposeful discrimination on the part of the prosecution.

Having inputted that Verzosa acted in conspiracy with his brother-in-law, the court claimed that it was incumbent upon the prosecution to prove that the two had come to an agreement concerning the commission of the crime and decided to execute the same.

The court claimed that the Supreme Court in previous cases ruled that for an accused to be held liable by reason of conspiracy, he must be shown to have performed an overt act in pursuance or in furtherance of conspiracy. Conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. It may be deduced from the manner in which the offense is committed as when the accused acted in concert to achieve the same objective.

The court asserted that conspiracy must be proved as convincingly and indubitably as the crime itself and that a conviction premised on a finding of conspiracy must be founded on facts, not on mere inferences and presumption.

“We find the set of facts and evidence in the instant case insufficient to establish the existence of conspiracy. Assuming, without necessarily declaring, that Mayor Mangaoang committed violation of the pertinent provisions of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the prosecution miserably failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt the existence of conspiracy between Mayor Mangaoang and the accused,” a portion of the decision stated.

The court explained that no evidence on record would show that Verzosa had any agreement or understanding with Mayor Mangaoang for them to rig the procurement process of the electric materials and no proof was adduced showing that they performed overt acts aimed at the same criminal design.

Moreover, the prosecution failed to demonstrate a well-grounded belief that Verzosa had prima facie foreknowledge of the alleged irregularities of the procurement process, specifically the impropriety of shopping as an alternative mode of procurement under the circumstances.

The court noted that Verzosa’s participation was limited to accommodating the request of Mayor Mangaoang for BENECO to purchase the electric materials on behalf of Balbalan. The accused, being a brother-in-law of Mayor Mangaoang, does not suffice either to prove the conspiracy absent any other clear and convincing evidence of community design to commit the offense.

According to the decision, the contract was originally set for public bidding but no bidders participated, hence, it was declared as a failed bidding. The BAC then resorted to shopping and sent requests for quotations to various suppliers and electric cooperatives. After the canvass, the contract was not initially awarded entirely to BENECO as witnesses testified that some materials were awarded to the Kalinga-Apayao Electric Cooperative (KAELCO) as it offered the lowest price for them and it was only because KAELCO had no available supply that all materials were then purchased through the assistance of BENECO.

The court cited that clearly, Balbalan’s intention was to obtain the lowest price possible for the materials and not to favor or give preference to anyone. If indeed there was conspiracy to favor BENECO, the latter would have participated in the public bidding as the lone bidder or at least the entire contract should have been awarded to it instantaneously after the procedure on shopping was conducted.

The court underscored the fact that BENECO or Verzosa did not derive any profit or benefit from the aforesaid transaction as BENECO merely acted as a middleman in order for Balbalan to  obtain the best possible prices of materials from its suppliers and that it did not yield any commission, premiums or mark up profit from the purchase prices. Neither did the suppliers give any favor, benefits or perks to BENECO or Verzosa by reason of the subject transaction.

Worst, the court stipulated that the decision said that the conspiracy being imputed against the accused by the prosecution was not  supported by proof in law, but only by presumption or conjectures and that there being no evidence to convince the court that the acts of the accused had been interwoven with a preconceived plan or agreement to rig the procurement process, the accused is entitled to a judgement of acquittal. By HENT

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