By Czarina Nicole Ong-Ki
The Sandiganbayan First Division has affirmed its decision to convict former Palawan vice governor David Ponce De Leon for two estafa through falsification charges.
De Leon was found guilty for violating Article 315 in relation to Article 171(6) of the Revised Penal Code for defrauding the government a total of P214,656.89 by altering the amounts in two receipts.
The first instance was for the amount of P10,000 when the official receipt no. 121240 date July 29, 2002 issued by Badjao Sea Front was altered. This represented payment for meals and snacks, paid in advance by De Leon. He made it appear that the amount paid was P12,975.50 instead of P2,975.50.
The next amount involved P204,656.89 with the alteration of official receipt no. 17366 dated December 18, 2002 issued by The Legend Hotels International Corporation, which represented payment for meals and snacks. De Leon made it appear that the amount paid was P205,000 instead of P343.11.
In his motion for reconsideration, De Leon said that the Sandiganbayan reached a decision based on a “misapprehension of facts.” He argued that he could not have been complicit in the falsification of the receipts because he signed the documents in good faith.
In his unsuspecting mind, De Leon regarded the receipts as regularly issued. Moreover, he said that there were no erasures in the figures and words written in the receipts which would raise any suspicion that it was falsified.
He noted that the cashier of Legend Hotel, Jenny Denosta, who was not presented as a witness by the prosecution. De Leon said it was she who wrote P205,000 in the receipt, so he signed the disbursement voucher thinking that it was an accurate representation of facts.
However, the court ruled that his motion for reconsideration was “bereft of merit” and that there was no doubt in the court’s mind that the two receipts concerned were altered.
While De Leon insisted that there was no erasure in the Badjao receipt, since the figures were not crossed out, the court said he failed to argue that it was “tampered” with.
As for the Legend Hotel receipt, the court said there was an “obvious erasure” on its face.
The court did not doubt the launching of the Palawan Anti-Drug Abuse Council (PADAC) at the Badjao Sea Front Restaurant and the Youth Congress at Legend Hotel. However, “the receipts cannot be the receipts that were issued for the expenses incurred in those establishments.” This was because there was “palpable tampering and alteration” appearing on the two receipts.
Even though the MR was denied, the court still decided to modify a portion of its sentence against De Leon.
He was initially sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of eight years four months and two days of prison correcional as minimum to 20 years and one day of prison mayor as maximum. He was also ordered to pay a total fine of P60,000.
The prison sentence was maintained, but he was ordered to pay only a total fine of P10,000 instead of P60,000.
The 12-page resolution was penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg with the concurrence of Chairperson Efren De La Cruz and Associate Justice Edgardo Caldona.