Sandiganbayan affirms bribery conviction of LRA official

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    THE Sandiganbayan Third Division has affirmed the February 8, 2017 decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court convicting an examiner of the Land registration Authority (LRA) of direct bribery.

    In a 46-page resolution issued last November 6, the anti-graft court upheld the guilty verdict against Giovanni Purugganan for demanding and receiving P50,000 from a private person who had a pending request in his office regarding a property title.

    This means the sentence of two years and four months imprisonment against Purugganan stands as well as the fine set at P100,000.

    However, the Sandiganbayan reversed the defendant’s conviction on a separate graft case that has a heftier penalty of six years in jail with perpetual disqualification from public office.

    The cases stemmed from an entrapment operation set up by complainant Albert Avecilla and agents of the National Bureau of Investigation on August 23, 2011 based on the directives of former LRA administrator Eulalio Diaz.

    Records showed that Avecilla was trying to secure an order from the LRA concerning the processing of the title of a property owned by his uncle who lives abroad. The request was assigned to Purugganan.

    Avecilla testified that the accused told him to produce P300,000 to speed up the process, which supposedly takes at least six to eight months.

    Through friends, he was able to bring his problem to Assistant Administrator Rex Riveral and Director Profirio Encisa, and through them to Diaz.

    After going over the entrapment plans with NBI agents, Avecilla delivered the marked money totaling P50,000 in one thousand peso bills and handed the envelope to the defendant. After that, NBI agents arrested Purugganan.

    “The court…gave full credence to the testimony of the prosecution witness as it found the same clear, positive, convincing, and consistent,” the court said.

    Despite Avecilla’s failure to produce the text messages proving that Purugganan made the demand for P300,000, the court said it does not affect the credibility of his testimony, noting the text messages were “mere corroborative and not essential.”

    For the graft charge, however, the Sandiganbayan said the release of an order from the LRA in connection with the titling of land does not constitute a “contract or transaction” as contemplated by RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

    Since proof that the accused demanded and received a gift or benefit in connection with a “contract or transaction” is a key element of graft as a criminal offense, the court held that the case was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.