THE Sandiganbayan has dismissed nine counts of falsification of public documents filed in 2017 against former Maguindanao governor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan for insufficiency of evidence.
However, the rest of the 136 criminal charges filed against Ampatuan, who is now Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipal mayor, by the Office of the Ombudsman in the same batch remain in place as the court had earlier affirmed that the prosecution has presented enough evidence to secure a conviction.
In its February 7, 2020 resolution, the Sixth Division granted Ampatuan’s demurrer to evidence citing the failure of the prosecution to establish his participation in each of the documents pertaining to the procurement of construction materials for public works projects in 2009.
Under the rules of court, dismissal of a case through the grant of demurrer to evidence has the effect of an outright acquittal hence, non-appealable.
Ampatuan raised two principal arguments in his demurrer to evidence: first, that there was no evidence linking him to the alleged spurious documents; and second, that his right to due process and speedy disposition of cases was violated.
The Sandiganbayan found merit on the first point but swept aside the second one for lack of basis.
Balancing the sheer number of transactions and documents involved and the recommended period to complete the investigation process, the court held that the filing of the indictment three years from the time the complaint was lodged did not constitute unreasonable delay.
“Even assuming there was inordinate delay… there would still be no violation of accused Ampatuan’s right to speedy disposition of cases because he is deemed to have waived the same,” the court said, citing the Supreme Court pronouncement that the said right should be timely invoked.
On the first ground, the Sixth Division justices noted that the disbursement vouchers, purchase requests and purchase orders pertaining the nine cases showed the defendant’s name but not one bore his signature.
Likewise, examination of other documents submitted on record turned up no link to establish that Ampatuan took part in preparing, processing or approving them.
“The prosecution’s evidence is insufficient… considering that such evidence failed to establish his participation, much less, the precise degree of his participation in the alleged falsification of the documents,” the court pointed out.
Ampatuan was charged with four counts each of graft and malversation of public funds and 137 counts of falsification of public documents.
Named co-defendants were provincial accountant John Dollosa Jr., provincial treasurer Osmeña Bandila, general services office chief and Bids and Awards Committee chairman Kasan Macapendeg, provincial administrator Norie Unas, provincial engineer Datu Ali Abpi, Al Haj, and provincial engineer Landap Guinaid.
The charges were based on an audit report that the provincial government’s procurement of P72.256 million worth of construction materials for school building in 2009 was spurious.
Prosecutors said none of the four suppliers named by the provincial government existed which led them to believe that the transactions were all bogus.
The suppliers were identified as Usman Lumberyard and Construction Supply, Andong Lumberyard and Construction, Nasser Lumberyard and Construction Supply, and Ismael Lumberyard and Construction Supply.