THE Sandiganbayan yesterday said the prosecution has submitted evidence that will “warrant the conviction” of businesswoman Janet Lim- Napoles and former party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez as it ruled to junk separate demurrers to evidence filed by the two respondents accused in a P57.79 million plunder case.
“The case before us is replete with evidence that would warrant a conviction if not rebutted by the defense,” the 34-page resolution of the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division stated.
Valdez and Napoles had filed separate demurrers to evidence seeking the outright acquittal of plunder charge filed against them by the Office of the Ombudsman four years earlier.
The anti-graft court said the prosecution has discharged its burden of proving the guilt of the two defendants through testimonial and documentary evidence.
“At this point, the burden of evidence shifts to the defense to disprove what the prosecution has shown by evidence, to prove by evidence … that the accused did not commit the crime charged or cannot otherwise be held liable therefore,” it declared.
Associate Justices Rafael R. Lagos and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurred with Associate Justice Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega who penned the ruling.
Defense lawyers were told to start presenting their clients’ evidence when trial resumes on September 12, 2019.
Based on the plunder information, Valdez, who was a former congressman for party-list Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (PL-APEC), received P57,787,500 as “commissions and kickbacks” for funneling his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations into bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) created by Napoles.
The NGOs were identified as the Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI), Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc. (PSDFI), and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Inc. (SDPFFI).
Prosecutors said Valdez’s PDAF were supposed to go to livelihood and agricultural assistance projects but were instead diverted into the Napoles NGOs and split 50-50 or 60-40 with the bigger slice going to the lawmaker. They said the transactions took place from 2004 to 2010.
Government witnesses led by whistleblower Benhur Luy, a former trusted employee of Napoles, testified that the fraudulent transaction was covered up by submitting fabricated documents to liquidate the PDAF sums.
In challenging the evidence against him, Valdez claimed there was no strong evidence showing that he actually received P50 million which is the minimum threshold amount for a valid plunder charge.
He argued that prosecutors did not adduce any evidence in support of their allegation that he exerted undue pressure on implementing agencies and challenged the admissibility of testimonies of prosecution witness who admitted committing forgery of liquidation documents.
Napoles for her part said the evidence against her did not overcome the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
She tagged Luy as a tainted witness who has a grudge against her and attacked the validity of the plunder indictment, saying the Ombudsman failed to identify who is the main plunderer.
The court, however, affirmed the strength of the totality of the prosecution’s evidence against the defendants showing that Valdez, in conspiracy with Napoles and her staff John Raymund de Asis, “amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth.”
It found the testimony of Commission on Audit-Special Audit Office assistant commissioner Susan Garcia worthy of belief particularly on the paper trail of the PDAF sums leading to Napoles-linked NGOs.
“The findings of the COA-SAO are strong indicia that there are indeed anomalous transactions involving the PDAF of Valdez. Moreover, there are numerous evidence pointing to the fact that there are bogus NGOs which were the purported beneficiaries of the projects,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Likewise, it swept aside Valdez’s challenge to the amount of supposed kickbacks or commission involved saying the evidence demonstrated that Valdez received “more than the amount of P50,000,000 from his PDAF funded projects from 2004 to 2010.”
“The amount involved should be taken in its entirety. In other words, the amount actually received by the public officer is immaterial. Rather, it is the participation of the conspirators in the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth … which must be considered,” the court said.