By Czarina Nicole Ong
Six officials from the Pandi Water District (PWD) in Bulacan have been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan Third Division of their graft charge due to the failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
PWD Board of Directors Chairman Mario Agustin, Vice Chairman Ofelia Cruz, Secretary Rosalinda Marcos, and members Ma. Isabel Avedaño, Anica Concepcion-Marquez, and Marlon Soriano were initially charged with a violation of Section 3(f) of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
This was for their failure to pay Elvira Socorro Santos her back wages from March 29, 2011 to August 20, 2014, pursuant to the Civil Service Commission Decision dated October 6, 2011.
The said law penalizes officials for “neglecting or refusing, after due demand or request, without sufficient justification, to act within a reasonable time on any matter pending before him for the purpose of obtaining, directly or indirectly, from any person interested in the matter some pecuniary or material benefit or advantage, or for the purpose of favoring his own interest or giving undue advantage in favor of or discriminating against any other interested party.”
After the CSC rendered its decision ordering the reinstatement of Santos, the accused officials moved for reconsideration. The CSC denied this; so on February 17, 2012, Agustin informed Santos that the PWD will appeal the CSC rulings before the Court of Appeals (CA).
For the court, the actions of the PWD officials to “exhaust all legal remedies under the law” justify its action not to immediately reinstate Santos and pay her back wages.
“Accordingly, PWD did file a petition for review before the CA, albeit the latter dismissed this petition in its decision dated January 28, 2013,” the decision revealed.
The prosecution then presented the demand letters addressed to the PWD Board calling for the reinstatement of Santos. These are dated February 16 and 20, 2012 and August 20, 2014. However, the court said it was not shown whether each of the accused received the letters.
“The prosecution did not identify the name and signature of a certain ‘Criselda Cruz’ who allegedly received the February 16, 2012 demand letter, neither can it be assumed that accused Cruz, Marcos, Avedaño, and Soriano received the same in the absence of proof,” the court ruled.
Someone else received the second demand letter dated February 20, but the prosecution once again failed to present that person in court. “Simply put, the prosecution failed to establish that accused Cruz, Concepcion-Marquez, Soriano, Marcos and Avedaño were recipients of any of the demand letters,” the decision stated.
At the same time, the court said that the prosecution failed to prove that the element of neglect or refusal to act without sufficient justification on the part of the accused.
Concepcion-Marquez testified that the PWD could not pay Santos in 2014 due to the unavailability of funds, as proven by the PWD’s financial records. This fact had been made known to Santos.
Still, the PWD Board approved the 2015 budget allocation for the payment of Santos’ back wages. It also bears stressing that Santos was reinstated on April 25, 2014 and assumed office on April 28.
“Other than Santos’ bare allegation that the PWD directors were motivated by ill will, animosity and personal spite in oppressing and discriminating against her through the repeated failure to abide by the final and executory order of the CSC to reinstate her as the PWD General Manager, the prosecution did not present any evidence to buttress this claim,” the decision said.
The 19-page decision was written by Associate Justice Ronald Moreno with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez.