FORMER Marawi City mayor Omar Ali has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan of a graft charge together with officers of a non-government organization over the alleged mishandling of P2 million agriculture assistance funds in 2004.
In the 35-page decision promulgated last January 17, the Sandiganbayan First Division granted separate demurrers to evidence filed by Ali and the private defendants who are officials of Dane Publishing House and the National Organization for Agricultural Enhancement and productivity Inc. (NOAEPI).
Citing weak evidence presented by prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman, the anti-graft court said it sees no reason to allow the case to go on, saying the State “must be shielded at all times from useless and expensive litigations that only contribute to the clogging of court dockets.”
Likewise, it reiterated the Supreme Court admonition in the case of Katigbak vs. Sandiganbayan that the reason for a demurrer to evidence is to protect the accused “against hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecution… and from trouble, expenses and anxiety of a public trial” where the evidence is found to be insufficient to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence.
“Given the state of the prosecution’s evidence in this case, the court is constrained to grant the instant motion to dismiss on demurrer to evidence. For, it has been held that if the prosecution fails to discharge its heavy burden, then it is not only the right of the accused to be freed; it becomes the court’s constitutional duty to acquit,” the Sandiganbayan declared.
The case filed in 2014 involved allegations that Mayor Ali conspired with private individuals Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Marites Aytona, Leonicia Llarena, and Minda Bombase of Dane Publishing House together with NOAEPI president Joselito Flordeliza.
Prosecutors said the local official gave unwarranted benefits to NOAEPI by choosing the NGO as project implementer for farm-assistance programs worth P1,999, 500 funded under the Department of Agriculture’s 2004 Farm Inputs and Farm Implements Program (FIFIP).
The selection of NOAEPI was questioned on the ground that it failed to comply with the minimum requirement for eligibility set under Commission on Audit Circular No. 96-003 as it had a start-up capital of only P100,000 and total equity of P468,868.40 as of June 30, 2003.
The one document that could have proven the mayor’s participation was the memorandum of agreement (MOA) but the copy turned out to have been notarized in Cebu City while the business address of NOAEPI was in Manila.
The defense challenged the authenticity of the signatures on the document, but prosecutors failed to supply the convincing proof that Ali was involved.
“In the face of serious questions raised on the regularity in the execution of the MOA, it was incumbent upon the prosecution to have presented a witness who could have competently identified and authenticated the document,” the court pointed out.
It also noted that from the reading of the MOA itself, it was shown that the money did not even go through the City of Marawi but was transferred directly from the DA-Regional Field Unit 10 to NOAEPI.
“This only shows that the fund allocated ..did not pass through accused Mayor Ali because it was directly delivered to the NGO from the DA,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Ali was accused of failing to monitor the implementation of the project, proper utilization of the FIFIP funds, and whether there was actual distribution of fertilizers to farmer beneficiaries.
Based on a statement of account from fertilizer supplier Feshan Philippines Inc., the 6,133 bottles of liquid fertilizer was sold at P150 per bottle and delivered to Marawi City on May 25, 2004.
However, the acceptance report, inspection report, and financial status report showed the City of Marawi received P1,333 bottles at P1,500 per bottle.
The purchase order, sales invoice, official receipts and delivery receipts from Feshan were not presented.
While the court acknowledged that the paper trail “portrays a dubious scheme to defraud the government,” there was nothing in the evidence to establish the liability of Mayor Ali.