JV Ejercito acquitted over anomalous firearms deal

MANILA — The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has acquitted Philippine Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito of technical malversation in connection with the alleged anomalous purchase of P2.1 million-worth of firearms during his term as the mayor of San Juan City in 2008.

In its decision promulgated on Thursday, August 10, the court’s Sixth Division granted the demurrer of evidence — a motion to dismiss a case for lack of evidence — submitted by Ejercito and his several co-accused.

Last year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed graft and technical malversation charges against Ejercito, accusing him and other officials of using the city’s calamity funds to purchase P2.1 million worth of firearms for the local police in 2008.

The court, however, ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the suspects’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

It said all the documents presented by the prosecution “do not show that the payment for the procurement was sourced from the 2008 Calamity Fund of San Juan City.”

“Let it be stressed that this verdict of acquittal is based on the failure of the prosecution to present proof beyond reasonable doubt that the accused indeed used the 2008 calamity fund of San Juan City in the procurement and payment of the subject firearms,” the court’s decision read.

Acquitted with Ejercito were former Vice Mayors Leonardo Celles and Francisco Zamora; and former Councilors Rolando Bernardo, Andoni Miguel Carballo, Vincent Rainer Pacheco, Angelino Mendoza,  Ramon Nakpil, Grace Pardines, Francis Keith Peralta, Dante Santiago, Domingo Sese, Edgardo Soriano, Jannah Ejercito-Surla, and Joseph Christopher Torralba.

The court also lifted the hold departure order issued against them.

In his separate concurring opinion, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Karl Miranda added that even if the prosecution was able to prove that the local calamity funds were used to procure firearms, there was still no commission of technical malversation.

“Purchase of firearms as a means to prevent criminal and terrorist activities is still considered the government’s disaster preparedness and pre-disaster activities,” Miranda explained.

Ejercito earlier justified that the purchase of high-powered firearms was part of the local government’s deterrent against “the spike of criminal incidents within the metropolis such as robbery-holdup, kidnap for ransom, and gun for hire.”

Following the dismissal of his technical malversation case, Ejercito, in a statement on Friday, August 11, thanked the Sandiganbayan justices for clearing his name.

“All throughout this two-year process, I have been firm on two things: One, that I am innocent of the charges filed against me, and; two, that I have faith in the fairness of our judicial system. These beliefs have just been reaffirmed by the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division decision acquitting me from technical malversation,” the senator remarked.

He went on to say, “This is truly a good day. I thank the Lord, I thank the good justices of the Sandiganbayan for remaining true to their duty of upholding justice and fairness. At the moment, I am just grateful that my name has been cleared and redeemed from charges.”

The graft case against the senator was already dismissed by the Sandiganbayan with finality in February of this year.

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