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Sandigan clears JV in P2.1-M gun deal

Ejercito

MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan has dismissed the remaining case against Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito in connection with the purchase of P2.1 million worth of high-powered firearms in 2008 during his term as the mayor of San Juan City.

In a 23-page decision promulgated on Aug. 10 and released to the media yesterday, the court’s Sixth Division ruled to grant the demurrer to evidence filed by Ejercito and 14 of his co-accused praying for the dismissal of their technical malversation case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman last year.

The court sided with the respondents’ argument that none of the witnesses as well as the documentary evidence presented by the ombudsman’s prosecution panel can back its allegation that the city government’s calamity fund was used for the purchase of the firearms without a bidding and examination of the supplier’s qualifications.

The ruling was penned by division chairman Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada. Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Michael Frederick Musngi concurred with the ruling.

Acquitted with Ejercito were former vice mayors Leonardo Celles and Francisco Zamora, former councilors Andoni Miguel Carballo, Vincent Rainer Pacheco, Angelino Mendoza, Dante Santiago, Rolando Bernardo, Grace Pardines, Domingo Sese, Edgardo Soriano, Joseph Christopher Torralba, Ramon Nakpil and Francis Keith Peralta as well as Jannah Ejercito-Surla, Ejercito’s cousin.

The Fifth Division of the Sandiganbayan had earlier dismissed with finality the graft case against Ejercito and his co-accused, which also stemmed from the 2008 firearms purchase. The graft case was dismissed after Ejercito also filed a demurrer citing the weak evidence of the prosecution.

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Filed by the ombudsman in 2016, the graft and technical malversation cases stemmed from the city government’s purchase of 20 sub-machine guns for P2.1 million from supplier HK Tactical Defense System, Inc.

The Sixth Division said even the four city ordinances that the prosecution presented merely show that the city council allowed Ejercito to purchase the firearms using the calamity fund but “do not prove or establish the actual use” of the fund.

The court also said that one of the witnesses, city budget officer Liza Tiomico, admitted that the calamity fund was intact and the city’s general fund was used for the purchase.

Ejercito took to Twitter after hearing of the court’s ruling.  

“Thank you Lord!” Ejercito tweeted.  

“All throughout this two-year process, I have been firm on my innocence from charges filed, and faith in the fairness of our justice system,” he added.

Following their acquittal, the Sixth Division ordered the lifting of the hold departure order earlier issued against Ejercito and the other respondents.

Ejercito’s father, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, lauded the Sandiganbayan for the ruling. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero

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