By Joseph B.A. Marzan
The Sandiganbayan last week cleared former Sara, Iloilo town mayor Neptali Salcedo and two other town officials of graft charges filed against them in relation to the alleged falsification of human resource documents in relation to the town government’s projects and regular activities.
In a Sept 1, 2022 decision, the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division chaired by Associate Justice Sarah Fernandez found that the prosecution failed to prove the presence of all elements against Salcedo as well as Municipal Engineer Roel Salcedo and Municipal Treasurer Edna Pacrim.
The case was in relation to alleged falsified time books and payrolls for various projects. They were accused of affixing false names and signatures to make it look like the alleged employees were paid wages.
The acquittal stemmed from the lack of pertinent disbursement vouchers that could have established the accusations.
The court noted that the auditors’ failure to confirm the existence of workers in the time books and payrolls did not mean that there were “ghost workers” in the projects.
“There is no evidence to show that the persons listed in the said documents did not in fact render service in connection with the projects indicated in the documents,” the decision read.
“[T]he prosecution failed to prove that the projects involved in the subject transactions are fictitious. There is no finding in the Special Audit Report that the projects subject of these cases are fictitious or non-existent,” it added.
“[T]he team leader of the special audit team testified that they were not able to inspect some of the projects because of the lack of some documents necessary to determine the site of the said projects.”
Because of the lack of evidence, the Sandiganbayan said that they could not find Salcedos’ bad faith when he certified the listed persons and approved the payments.
While they did find Pacrim acting with gross inexcusable negligence in certifying the Time Book and Payrolls as Municipal Treasurer, the court could not convict her solely on evident bad faith, saying that the prosecution failed to prove a dishonest purpose or favor on one side against another.
“By failing to ensure that the listed payees signed the said documents, accused Pacrim failed to ensure that the public funds were paid to the proper recipients. She acted with conscious indifference to consequences insofar as affected persons are concerned—or with gross inexcusable negligence,” the court opined.
“While accused Pacrim indeed failed to ensure that the listed payees affixed their signatures to the pertinent documents, there is nothing in the evidence on record that would prove that the said payees were not in fact paid the amounts they were entitled to. Likewise, there is nothing in the evidence on record that would prove that accused Pacrim’s omission was part of the accused’s scheme to take public funds for their own use and benefit,” they also said in another paragraph.
The charges against ex-mayor Salcedo, Engr. Salcedo, and Pacrim included 46 counts of violations of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and another 46 counts of Malversation through Falsification under Articles 217 and 171 of Act No. 3815[JBM1] (Revised Penal Code, as amended).
This was in relation to the wages of workers of the Sara municipal government’s projects including the construction of stages in barangays, public markets, basketball courts, and government offices, as well as the repair and maintenance of local roads.
The charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman stemmed from a Complaint-Affidavit filed by former Iloilo 5th district Representative Niel Tupas Jr. on October 14, 2008.
The three accused in this case were also cleared by the Sandiganbayan in 2019 for an alleged conspiracy on overpriced road projects in 2006, likewise from complaints filed by Tupas Jr. with the anti-government corruption office.
[JBM1]Pre-Commonwealth period law