THE Supreme Court has affirmed the dismissal by the Sandiganbayan of the graft case filed against  the country’s former permanent representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja. 

In a 13-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the Court’s Third Division junked the petition filed by the government seeking the reversal of the resolutions issued by the Sandiganbayan  in 2017 which granted Baja’s demurrer to evidence that led to the dismissal of the case against the latter for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. 

The Court agreed with the argument of Baja that the filing of the  petition violated his right against double jeopardy.

It  did not give credence to the claim of the government that the petition does not violate the respondent’s right against double jeopardy considering that the anti-graft court  acted with grave abuse of discretion in clearing Baja of the charges. 

The petitioner maintained the Sandiganbayan committed a “gross misapprehension of facts, tantamount to grave abuse of discretion. 

However, the SC held that a review of the Sandiganbayan’s March 20, 2017 and Jun 27, 2017 resolutions shows that the anti-graft court  did not commit a gross misapprehension of the facts in the case. 

“Its findings were based on the evidence presented by the prosecution. As the Sandiganbayan pointed out while the prosecution proved that respondent Baja’s expenses were improperly documented, it failed to present enough evidence that would lead to a conclusion that these expenses were completely fictitious or non-existence,” the SC said.

The Court explained that the information specifically charged Baja with claiming and receiving reimbursement for non-existent or fictitious representation expenses, and not for merely submitting incomplete documents to support his claims. 

It held that  the irregularities in the supporting documents were insufficient to prove  the alleged nonpayment. 

The Court explained that the Information specifically charged Baja with claiming and receiving reimbursement for non-existent or fictitious representation expenses, and not for merely submitting incomplete documents to support his claims.

Baja’s graft case stemmed from  the questionable representation expenses he purportedly incurred in 2003, 2004, and 2005 totaling to $28,934.96 when he was the  Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and Chief of Mission I, Department of Foreign Affairs for the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, New York City, United States of America.

 He was the Philippine Representative to the UN from 2003 to 2007. 

“Petitioner was unable to show that the Sandiganbayan, in granting the demurrer, blatantly abused its authority as to deprive itself of “its very power to dispense justice,” the SC noted.

“The Sandiganbayan did not commit grave abuse of discretion. To reverse its grant of the Demurrer to Evidence and dismissal of the case would be to violate respondent Baja’s right against double jeopardy,” it added. 

The SC stressed that once a demurrer to evidence has been granted in a criminal case, the grant amounts to an acquittal. 

Thus, any further prosecution for the same offense would violate the constitutional right against double jeopardy of the accused. 





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