The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has acquitted a former official of Iloilo City of his graft charge after his demurrer to evidence was granted.

Then Assistant Department Head II Julianito M. Ortigas was initially slapped with violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act alongside the late Mayor Mansueto Malabor and several others.

He filed a demurrer to evidence that was granted in a resolution dated Nov. 10 which contested the prosecution’s evidence as insufficient to render a guilty verdict.

According to the prosecution, Ortigas attended the prequalification bids and awards committee (PBAC) meeting where the Iloilo City Housing Project (ICHP) contract was awarded to Ace Builders and Enterprises (ABE) despite Ace Builders being unqualified and was not licensed to do business in Iloilo City and had a capitalization of only P2 million.

Ortigas and the other co-accused reportedly accorded ABE unwarranted benefits and advantage by giving it blanket authority to plan, design, and do other engineering matters as well as releasing a total of P24,821,067.93 as advance payment.

In his demurrer, Ortigas argued that all elements of the crime of graft are “patently absent,” especially since he was not among those named in the composition of the PBAC.

The anti-graft court, in a 15-page resolution, agreed with Ortigas, as he was neither a member of the PBAC and the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Iloilo City at the time material to the case. At the time, he was Assistant Department Head II who just represented the mayor in the PBAC meeting on Jan. 19, 2001.

“After a judicious evaluation of the evidence presented by the prosecution against accused Ortigas, the Court resolves to grant the present demurrer to evidence and acquit accused Ortigas on the ground that the prosecution was unable to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the Sandiganbayan said.

The prosecution was unable to impute other acts upon Ortigas that would show how he acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence in the discharge of his official functions, it added.

The prosecution insisted that Ortigas “extended his helping hands to his co-conspirators by attending the PBAC meeting as a representative of accused Mayor Malabor” but the court was not persuaded.

“Neither is it convinced that said accused participated in the alleged conspiracy, if any. The paucity of evidence against accused Ortigas leads to no other conclusion but his acquittal of the crime charged,” the Sandiganbayan said.

The resolution was penned by Fourth Division Chairperson Alex Quiroz and concurred in by Associate Justices Lorifel Pahimna and Bayani Jacinto.

Source: Manila Bulletin (