Ex-Zamboanga Norte mayor acquitted of perjury over SALN
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte mayor Ceasar Soriano has been cleared of perjury for failure to declare several business interests in the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth  (SALN) that he and his wife, Perliza, a former vice mayor, jointly filed in 2011.

In a 13-page decision promulgated on June 7, the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division said the Office of the Ombudsman failed to prove that the omission was done deliberately and with malicious intent, a key element of a perjury offense.

Filed by the ombudsman in 2017, the case stemmed from the couple’s failure to declare their business ventures in sand and gravel supply, digital imaging, wine and liquor distribution, money transfer and pawnshop.

In acquitting Soriano, the fourth division said the prosecution panel was able to present only the business permits of the undeclared businesses of the couple.

“The existence of the permits to operate can only prove that accused was capacitated to engage in such businesses... the ability to engage in a business cannot directly translate to its operation. The prosecution failed to show... conscious and malicious concealment in executing his SALN,” the court ruling read.

The court gave weight to Soriano’s argument that there was no need to declare non-operational business entities in his SALN.

It cited Soriano’s letter dated March 4, 2011 informing the municipal treasurer’s office that he was withdrawing the business permits of the questioned business ventures. He also presented a certification dated Sept. 11, 2014 stating that the five business entities “neither opened nor operated.”

“For lack of independent proof of operation of accused’s businesses, nothing else exists on record that would serve to disprove the basis of his allegation of good faith,” the court said.

The Sandiganbayan said the case against Soriano’s wife, who remains at large, should be archived until her arrest or surrender.

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