Saturday, July 14, 2018

Compeent proof of overpricing, Sec. 3 [g], R.A. 3019, anti-graft and corrupt practices act

Caunan vs. People of the Philippines and Sandiganbayan G.R. Nos 181999, 182001-04, 02 September 2009:

"x x x.

We agree with petitioners that the fact of overpricing is embedded in the third criminal element of Section 3 (g) of R.A. No. 3019. Given the factual milieu of this case, the subject contracts would be grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government if characterized by an overpriced procurement. However, the gross and manifest disadvantage to the government was not sufficiently shown because the conclusion of overpricing was erroneous since it was not also adequately proven. Thus, we grant the petitions.

x x x.

In finding that the walis tingting purchase contracts were grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government, the Sandiganbayan relied on the COA’s finding of overpricing which was, in turn, based on the special audit team’s report. The audit team’s conclusion on the standard price of a walis tingting was pegged on the basis of the following documentary and object evidence: (1) samples of walis tingting without handle actually used by the street sweepers; (2) survey forms on the walis tingting accomplished by the street sweepers; (3) invoices from six merchandising stores where the audit team purchased walis tingting; (4) price listing of the DBM Procurement Service; and (5) documents relative to the walis tingting purchases of Las Piñas City. These documents were then compared with the documents furnished by petitioners and the other accused relative to Parañaque City’s walis tingting transactions.

Notably, however, and this the petitioners have consistently pointed out, the evidence of the prosecution did not include a signed price quotation from the walis tingting suppliers of Parañaque City. In fact, even the walis tingting furnished the audit team by petitioners and the other accused was different from the walis tingting actually utilized by the Parañaque City street sweepers at the time of ocular inspection by the audit team. At the barest minimum, the evidence presented by the prosecution, in order to substantiate the allegation of overpricing, should have been identical to the walis tingting purchased in 1996-1998. Only then could it be concluded that the walis tingting purchases were disadvantageous to the government because only then could a determination have been made to show that the disadvantage was so manifest and gross as to make a public official liable under Section 3(g) of R.A. No. 3019.

x x x.

The reasoning of the Sandiganbayan is specious and off tangent. The audit team reached a conclusion of gross overpricing based on documents which, at best, would merely indicate the present market price of walis tingting of a different specification, purchased from a non-supplier of Parañaque City, and the price of walis tingting purchases in Las Piñas City. Effectively, the prosecution was unable to demonstrate the requisite burden of proof, i.e., proof beyond  reasonable doubt, in order to overcome the presumption of innocence in favor of petitioners.

As pointed out by petitioner Caunan, not all of the contents of the audit team’s report constituted hearsay. Indeed, as declared by the Sandiganbayan, Bermudez could very well testify thereon since the conclusions reached therein were made by her and her team. However, these conclusions were based on incompetent evidence. Most obvious would be the market price of walis tingting in Las Piñas City which was used as proof of overpricing in Parañaque City. The prosecution should have presented evidence of the actual price of the particular walis tingting purchased by petitioners and the other accused at the time of the audited transaction or, at the least, an approximation thereof. Failing in these, there is no basis to declare that there was a glaring overprice resulting in gross and manifest disadvantage to the government. 

x x x."