Postscript to Governor Gwen's triumph in Balili

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus Jimenez (The Freeman) - December 16, 2020 - 12:00am

While there had been a lot of media hype in 2012 when the Balili case was filed, the victory of the defense a few days ago when the Sandiganbayan dismissed all the charges against all the accused seems to be swept under the rug. The nation is busy preparing for Christmas and the media have a heyday about a lot of other things. But before we lay this case to rest, it is important to summarize it for the benefit of all Cebuanos, both those who love her and those who hate her guts.

In fairness to the accused, whose names were considerably maligned by too much prejudgment and by conviction through publicity, we deem it fair and just to share with the public, what the Sandiganbayan said in the resolution, as to the reasons why the cases were thrown out by demurrer on evidence. First of all, the Court declared that there are three elements that the prosecution needed to prove beyond reasonable doubt: first, that the principal accused were public officials; second, that they acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence; and third, that they knowingly granted unwarranted favor, advantage or preference to any party to the prejudice of the government. The Sandiganbayan found that the prosecution was able to prove only the first element. The second and third, which are more important, were left without enough evidence.

The prosecution filed three consolidated cases for violations of RA 3019 and the Revised Penal Code against Governor Gwen, Juan Bolo, Anthony Sususco, Roy Salubre, Eulogio Pelayre, Emme Gingoyon , Amparo and Romeo Balili. The prosecution did their best; we need to commend them as well. The Court heard the testimonies of a long array of witnesses: Roderick Blazo of the Ombudsman's office, Alaric Nazareno, Cecilia Enriquez, Alfredo Icoy, Nicomedes Armilla, Atty Fernando Alberca, Richard Abella, all of DENR, and Atty Soleil Flores, Solicitor of OSG, Michelle Languido and Mariflor Vero of the Provincial Assessors' Office, my law school classmate, Atty Annie Pasaylo, then provincial secretary, then vice governor Agnes Magpale, Danilo Rodas, then provincial budget officer, Marieto Ypil, provincial accountant, and Crisologo Saavedra, the one who filed the complaint.

Despite all their testimonies and all the voluminous documentary exhibits, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case on demurrer because, insofar as the governor is concerned, the following admissions made by the complainants and their witnesses proved fatal to the prosecution's case: 1) The properties were covered by clean title; 2) at the time of the purchase, the government has not filed a reversion case against the properties sold to the province of Cebu; 3) the prosecution's own witnesses admitted that the properties sold to the province were not overpriced. In fact, they confirmed that the purchase price was advantageous to Cebu province; 4) the prosecution's witnesses themselves admitted that all the legal steps were taken and all approvals were obtained before the governor signed the purchase document. This means that the defense lawyers were terrific in soliciting admissions through the art of cross-examination.

The fifth reason for the dismissal of the case is the Arias doctrine, which postulates that a head of office, who signed the final deed of the transaction, without an opportunity to scrutinize the minutest details of the supporting documents, cannot be indicted for conspiracy. This is based on the presumption of regularity, absent any convincing evidence that the head of office acted in manifest partiality, evident bad faith or reckless and inexcusable imprudence. The seventh defense was the fact that the COA, itself, the vanguard of integrity in the use of public funds, did not dis-authorize the payment of the purchase price. This was a virtual endorsement by COA of the said transaction. Most importantly, and this, to me, is the best of all defenses, the prosecution had no slightest iota of proof that Governor Gwen had personal interest in the transaction. There is no single piece of evidence that the governor gained a cent.

 In fact, if I may add, she is a woman, single and lonely, but subjected to all these accusations. And since 2008, when the sale was executed until today, or for 12 long and heavy years, her name had been excessively besmirched. She suffered mental anguish, serious anxieties and wounded feelings, not to mention the sleepless nights. She should be the one suing for damages. But I hope she won't and just let it go. Let God punish those who ruined her last 12 Christmases. Let her savor this one coming in a few days.

All is fair in love and politics. And God is good all the time.

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