‘Benefit of the doubt’ saves co-op execs from graft raps

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    WHERE motive to commit a corrupt act is not clearly shown, an accused may be given the benefit of the doubt.

    By this pronouncement the Sandiganbayan acquitted Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) board administrator Wendell Reyes Sr., Finance Division chief Gertrudes San Diego, and Marissa Estanislao, private secretary to the late CDA vice chairman Ombre Hamsirani, of graft charges involving alleged misuse of P13.3 million agency funds in 2004.

    Based on the information filed in 2009, the Office of the Ombudsman said the CDA officials illegally released the money as loan to six small cooperatives in fishing villages in Mindanao.

    Prosecutors said the sum came from loan payments by other cooperatives hence should have been remitted to the Bureau of Treasury.

    In their defense, the accused CDA officials claimed they believed the money was part of the agency’s revolving fund which they can use to extend grants to spur creation of additional livelihood in the countryside.

    The Sandiganbayan Special Sixth Division sustained the prosecution that the prohibition for release of the said funds under the General Appropriations Act on 2004 should prevail over a mere memorandum circular issued by the CDA Board on which the defendants relied.

    However, in the absence of evidence that the accused public officials were motivated by criminal intent, their actions can be interpreted to show good faith.

    It reminded the prosecution of its burden to show that the alleged acts were characterized by manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence rather than mere error of judgment or simple negligence.

    “There was no showing that the accused intended to do a criminal act. There is no proof that links or gives unifying purpose to the accused’s individual acts. There being a failure to establish that the acts of the accused are felonious in character, the Court finds that the facts from which civil liability might arise do not exist,” the Sandiganbayan declared.