FORMER Nueva Ecija governor Tomas Joson has avoided an 18-year jail term after winning a reversal of his July 2019 conviction on three counts of graft.
Voting 3-2, a special division of the Sandiganbayan granted separate motions for reconsideration filed by Joson and co-accused former Bongabon municipal mayor Amelia Gamilla who was convicted of two counts of graft, and former Quezon municipal mayor Basilio Joson who was previously found guilty of one count of the same offense.
Associate Justice Georgina D. Hidalgo penned the 50-page majority resolution dated February 14, 2020 that acquitted the three former local officials. Associate Justices Bernelito R. Fernandez and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurred.
On the other hand, Associate Justices Ma. Theresa Dolores C. Gomez-Estoesta and Zaldy V. Trespeses dissented and stood firm on the previous findings that the three accused acted in conspiracy and caused undue injury to the provincial government.
The graft cases involved allegations that before stepping down as governor in 2007, Joson donated several of the provincial government’s service vehicles to the municipal governments of Bongabon and Quezon.
Then incoming governor Aurelio M. Umali initiated the complaint after he found out that the capitol was left without any service vehicle.
An inventory revealed that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan issued a resolution dated January 22, 2007 authorizing Joson to donate heavy equipment vehicles to different municipalities.
However, it was learned that the provincial government also gave away its service vehicles including a Ford F-150, a Nissan Urvan, a Ford Expedition, a Nissan Terrano, a Toyota Revo, and a mobile clinic.
The municipality of Quezon received the Ford F-150, the Toyota Revo, the Nissan Urvan and one mobile clinic while the rest of the vehicles went to the municipality of Bongabon.
In initially convicting Joson, the anti-graft court swept aside his claim that the donations were motivated by his concern for the welfare of constituents.
The decision to convict was unanimous among Estoesta, Trespeses and Hidalgo.
On appeal however, Hidalgo changed her stance necessitating the creation of a special division of five justices. Appointed court members Fernandez and Mañalac supported Hidalgo’s position which swung the balance in favor of the defendants’ acquittal.
“After a re-evaluation of the case at hand, we find that it is erroneous to subscribe to the argument that a conspiracy exists in the present case for the reason that accepting a donation is but part of the procedure for consummating a donation,” the court noted.
It said mayors Gamilla and Joson “cannot be faulted” for simply requesting the provincial government for assistance by way of donation of used machineries and vehicles.
The court likewise found no basis to the prosecution’s claim that the province suffered undue injury because the vehicles were donated.
It pointed out that the recipient municipalities were also parts of the province of Nueva Ecija so that the benefits derived by the towns of Bongabon and Quezon likewise redounded to the good of the province.