Graft and falsification charges against former Caloocan City mayor Recom Echiverri and two other former city officials have been junked due to lack of evidence.
The Sandiganbayan, in a 71-page decision dated October 14, granted the demurrer to evidence — or the pleading seeking the dismissal of the case due to weak prosecution evidence and without the defense presenting its own —filed by Echiverri and former Caloocan City accountant Edna Centeno and City Budget Officer Jesusa Garcia because of “insufficiency of the prosecution evidence to sustain a judgment of conviction.”
Reports said the case was in connection with the P1.5-million pathwalk and drainage repair project in 2012, in which the three were charged with 13 counts of graft and 13 counts of falsification of public documents.
“Jurisprudence teaches that in every criminal conviction, the prosecution is required to prove two things beyond reasonable doubt: the fact of the commission of the crime charged, or the presence of all the elements of the offense; and the fact that the accused was the perpetrator of the crime. Unless these standards are unequivocally proven by the evidence submitted by the prosecution, the accused is entitled to an acquittal because he/she has in his/her favor the presumption of innocence which the Bill of Rights guarantees,” the Sandiganbayan, quoted by a GMA News report, said.
“In these cases, the Court finds that the prosecution has failed to discharge the said burden. Thus, the Court is constrained to grant the accused’s demurrer to evidence for lack of sufficient evidence to warrant their conviction of the crimes charged against them,” it added.
The Sandiganbayan said the City Development Council of Caloocan has adopted and unanimously approved CM-RECOM 11-006, which stated that at least P280 million of the city’s budget can be spent on social and economic development projects, as well as environment management projects, including flood and erosion control programs.
“The prosecution has failed to adduce any proof that the accused conspired with one another and deliberately disregarded the prescribed procedures set by R.A. No. 9184 (Procurement law) to unduly favor the various contractors in the award of contracts for the subject projects,” the Sandiganbayan said.
The anti-graft court cited Commission on Audit’s (COA) en banc Decision No. 2017- 160 dated June 15, 2017 which did not find any irregularities regarding the subject projects’ procurement and implementation.
“Simply stated, the award of the subject contracts to the various contractors went through the regular process of public bidding,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“To overcome this presumption, nothing short of clear and convincing proof is required. After a painstaking review of the evidence adduced by the prosecution, the Court holds that the prosecution failed to overcome the said presumption,” it added.
As for the falsification of public documents, the anti-graft court said the certifications made by Centeno and Garcia were not false as were supported by issuances from the city government.
“The Court holds that the prosecution evidence miserably failed to demonstrate that the City Government of Caloocan suffered actual damage in the implementation of the subject contracts,” the Sandiganbayan said.
“Wherefore, accused Enrico R. Echiverri, Edna V. Centeno and Jesusa C. Garcia’s Demurrer to Evidence’ dated July 29, 2022 is granted. Accordingly, the subject cases are dismissed for insufficiency of the prosecution evidence to sustain a judgment of conviction,” it added.
The hold departure orders issued against Echiverri, Centeno and Garcia have also been lifted by the anti-graft court, while the bail bond they posted for their provisional liberty were also ordered released subject to the usual auditing and accounting requirements.