Ex-agri official acquitted of perjury for declaring overvalued property in SALN

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 13 2019 08:16 PM

MANILA - The Sandiganbayan 7th Division has acquitted former Agriculture undersecretary Belinda Gonzales who was accused of two counts of perjury for the overvaluation of her property in her 2005 and 2006 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

While public officials face perjury for undervaluing their properties in an apparent attempt to hide ill-gotten wealth, Gonzales was accused of overvaluation of her house and lot, putting P2.6 million instead of P900,000 in her SALNs. 

In a decision promulgated by the anti-graft court on Aug. 9, it was noted that even the prosecution witness, Dennis Mendoza of the Office of the Ombudsman's Graft Investigation and Prosecution Office, admitted that the accused would not have gained anything from the overvaluation of her property. 

“In the present case, the prosecution failed to prove any evil intent or legal malice, which might have prompted accused to declare the alleged falsity in her 2005 and 2006 SALNs," the court said. 

The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses, with the concurrence of Division Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo.

The court noted that the accused did not deliberately put the wrong amount in her SALNs as the value she stated was what she honestly believed was the true worth of her house and lot.

It appeared that the P900,000 amount referred to the land and the P2.6 million price refers to the house and lot.

The accused also pointed out during trial that prosecutors should have focused instead on public officials who undervalue their properties.

“Additionally, accused points out that it would be absurd for her to undervalue the house and lot in question. In the normal course of things, what raises suspicion is a public officer’s undervaluation of his property,” the court noted in its decision.

The court also ordered the lifting of the hold departure order against Gonzales, as well as the release of her cash bond.