Court junks SALN case versus COA-CAR official

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet  – A local court here dismissed the criminal charges that were filed against an official of the Cordillera office of the Commission on Audit (COA-CAR) on her failure to file her Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for failure of the prosecution to prove the elements of the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt.

In an 8-page joint judgement, Judge Lelita Amylesha G. Delson-Macaraeg of the Municipal Trial Court of this town stated the absence of proof of the non-filing of the SALNs of COA-CAR director Edna Tomelden was aggravated by the fact that the defense was able to adduce evidence that the SALNs were filed wherein on record is evidence that she filed her SALNs for 2007 and 2009.

The court noted that the 2007 and 2009 SALNs which she submitted were mere photo copies but were admitted as evidence because the admission was not objected to on that ground and even if the said comments are not to be considered by the court, there are still the testimonies of COA director Joseph Anacay and Ms. Gutierrez certifying that she filed her questioned SALNs since the two witnesses are occupying positions which render them competent to testify as to the fact that the SALNs were filed.

“It has often been held that when there are two conflicting versions as regards the commission or non-commission of an act, the version that supports the innocence of the accused must be favoured. In these particular cases, there is even no need to apply this doctrine because there is no equilibrium of evidence. The evidence that the accused submitted her SALN outweighs the evidence showing that she did not,” the decision stated.

The court added that the prosecution did not overcome the charges beyond reasonable doubt which resulted to the acquittal of Tomelden on the charge of violating Section 8 of Republic Act (RA) 6713 both in the two criminal cases filed against her.

The court claimed that what was submitted in the court was evidence to show that the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon did not have copies of the questioned SALNs, however, the act of filing does not refer to submission of the SALNs to the said office and that a certification from the human resource management office of COA should have been the best evidence of the fact of non-filing and unfortunately for the prosecution, none was submitted.

A COA-CAR lawyer also testified that it can be possible that the SALNs of Tomelden are with their head office, or with the Civil Service Commission (CSC), or in her 201 file which shows that is annually possible for employees to have properly filed their SALNs but their agencies just did not transmit the documents to the Ombudsman for Luzon that was bolstered by the testimony of Mr. Larrobis that the entire COA-CAR work force had no SALNs in their files from 2004-2010.

The decision asserted in the face of such possibility, Tomelden could not be convicted of the offenses charged.

To prove the fact of non-filing, the court stipulated that the prosecution must have adduced evidence that it was not filed with the COA-CAR HRMO and while it may be true that the allegation that an act did not happen need not be proven because of the difficulty of proving a negative fact, it must be so proven if it is an element of the offense charged just like in the pending cases.

The court noted that the elements of the offense charged against Tomelden include the fact that the accused is a public official or employee and she failed to submit her SALNs to the proper office.

Earlier, Tomelden was separately charged for violation of Section 8 of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees for her failure to submit her SALNs for the years 2007 and 2008 as certified by the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, the supposed custodian of the said documents.

The court recognized the fact that the Ombudsman for Luzon enjoys the presumption of regularity in the performance of its official duties, one of which is the filing of indictments for violations of RA 6713 such as the non-filing of SALNs by government officials and employees.

Tomelden pleaded not guilty when she was arraigned on the two criminal cases that were filed against her on her alleged failure to submit her SALNs for 2007 and 2009 on the prescribed time frame contained under existing laws.

During the pre-trial of the two criminal charges against Tomelden, the defense admitted that Tomelden held the position of chief administrative officer of the COA-CAR from 2007 to 2009 and the prosecution was able to present Salvador Liked, the original complainant, Atty. Expedito Allado and Arnel Larrobis as their witnesses in the said cases.

By HENT

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