The Supreme Court has upheld the Sandiganbayan’s decision acquitting the country’s former representative to the United Nations of graft charges filed against him by the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged questionable representation expenses for three years starting in 2003.
In its decision, the SC dismissed the petition by the anti-graft body through the Office of the Special Prosecutor seeking to overturn the ruling of the Sandiganbayan which granted the demurrer to evidence filed by former Philippine Representative to the UN Lauro Baja.
In the demurrer, Baja cited insufficiency of evidence to prove that he was liable for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“Once a demurrer to evidence has been granted in a criminal case, the grant amounts to an acquittal. Any further prosecution for the same offense would violate the accused’s constitutional right against double jeopardy,” the High Court said.
The anti-graft body had accused Baja of incurring questionable representation expenses in 2003, 2004, and 2005 totaling to $28,934.96 when he was the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
The high tribunal, however, found the Sandiganbayan’s grant of demurrer to evidence was proper.
The SC noted that the information specifically charged Baja with claiming and receiving reimbursement for non-existent or fictitious representation expenses, and not for merely submitting incomplete documents to support his claims.
As the Sandiganbayan noted, the irregularities in the supporting documents were insufficient positive proof of the alleged non-payment.
According to the SC, if evidence was insufficient to establish the elements of the offense charged, respondent Baja’s guilt could not have been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
“As the Sandiganbayan pointed out, while the prosecution proved that respondent Baja’s expenses were improperly documented, it failed to present enough evidence that would lead to a conclusion that these
expenses were completely fictitious or non-existent,” the tribunal ruled.