Sandiganbayan: Evidence enough to convict Napoles of plunder

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    THE Sandiganbayan Fifth Division has junked separate motions for reconsideration filed by former APEC Party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles challenging the court’s pronouncement that the prosecution’s evidence is enough to sustain a guilty verdict.

    In its November 13, 2019 resolution penned by Associate Justice Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega, the anti-graft court denied “for utter lack of merit” the defendants’ bid to have the plunder case against them terminated outright.

    “After an assiduous review of the records, the Court discerns no compelling reason to reverse its Resolution dated August 28, 2019,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    Associate Justices Rafael R. Lagos and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurred.

    In the assailed ruling, the court declared the case is “replete with evidence that would warrant a conviction if not rebutted by the defense.”

    The plunder information filed in 2015 alleged that Valdez, as 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 from 2004 to 2010.

    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 intended for livelihood and agricultural assistance projects but were instead funneled into bogus NGOs and split 50-50 or 60-40 with the bigger slice going to the lawmaker.

    In his motion, Valdez claimed the court violated his constitutional right to be informed of the nature of the offense he is charged with, saying there was no factual or legal basis to the court’s declaration that the P50 million threshold for ill-gotten wealth has been established.

    He also said the presumption of innocence to which he is entitled was even bolstered by testimonies of prosecution witnesses who admitted forging documents needed to liquidate the PDAF sums.

    He complained that he was not allowed to inspect and examine the evidence during preliminary investigation even as he questioned the alleged failure by the prosecution to present pertinent documents, including letters of endorsement and the memoranda of agreement.

    Napoles disputed the court’s finding that the evidence on record proved beyond reasonable doubt the existence of all elements of the plunder case.

    Her lawyers argued that there was no evidence that the ill-gotten wealth amassed totaled P57.788 million or that such amount went to Valdez who is the public official in the plunder case.

    The defense claimed Naples was not properly linked to the NGOs because the court did not acquire jurisdiction over the MAMFI, SDPFFI, and PSDFI.

    “The argument falls flat on its face. A simple reading of the information reveals that Napoles is being indicted in her personal capacity being one of the co-conspirators of accused Valdez,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    It clarified that the NGOs were created by Napoles to serve as recipients of Valdez’s PDAF and were chosen by the lawmaker to implement the livelihood and development projects.

    “Otherwise stated, the NGOs are formed by Napoles as mere instruments for the entire scheme and the commissions and kickbacks would be channeled through these Napoles NGOs. These foundations are conduits,” the court declared.

    On Valdez’s contention about the violation of his right to be informed of the offense, the court reiterated its previous pronouncement that the information is sufficient to duly inform the accused of acts imputed against him.

    “The information satisfactorily enumerates the acts imputed against the accused and the elements constituting the crime of plunder. It is plainly and visibly indicated in the Information that Valdez received the commissions/kickbacks from Napoles,” the court said.