cleared of graft charges
The seven-year ordeal of couple working as public school teachers came to an end last week when they were acquitted of charges that they profited from a land exchange deal involving a school site in Baras 15 years ago.
Regional Trial Court Judge Nilo B. Barsaga cleared Rudy and Cecilia Soria of charges for violation of Section 3(h) of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, after the prosecution was not able to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
According to the information filed Sept. 9, 1993 before the Sandiganbayan First Division, the accused, teacher-in-charge and teacher at the Puraran Elementary School, conspired with each other and became financially interested in a deed of exchange.
It was claimed that Rudy Soria exchanged a parcel of land consisting of 5,979 square meters with a parcel of land of the same size belonging to the then Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, represented by Cecilia Soria without prior written authority from the ministry.
They pleaded not guilty when arraigned on December 10, 1993 by the Sandiganbayan, which remanded the case to the Regional Trial Court as the accused were not within the Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction.
The case hinged on a questioned deed of exchange whereby Rudy Soria, who had purchased a 10,000-square meter lot for P7,000.00 on October 2, 1985, exchanged 5,979 square meters of his lot for the old school site of the same area, with MECS represented by his wife Cecilia and fellow teacher Evelyn Masagca on October 31, 1985. On July 25, 1986, Rudy Soria sold the former school site to one Yolanda Padernal for P7,000.00.
Complainant Romulo Tresvalles, who is Cecilia Soria's brother-in-law, told the Tanodbayan that Cecilia Soria had no prior authority to exchange the property of the government to Rudy Soria and that the exchanged property was later sold for P45,000.00, placing the government at a disadvantage. He presented an uncertified xerox copy of a Deed of Sale which stated that the amount of sale was P45,000.00 instead of P7,000.00.
The Court, however, refused to accept the veracity and probative value of the xerox copy, saying that it materially quarrels with another document of the prosecution evidencing the same transaction. The other document, which specified the P7,000 sale price, was later found to be a faithful reproduction of the original.
It said that the quantum of proof necessary for the conviction of the accused has not been satisfied, adding that the prosecution's evidence itself shows that the questioned exchange of real properties was beneficial and useful to the community.
DECS Supervisor Julieto Barceta had testified that as part of a legal team which inspected the old and new school sites, he noted that the old school site was 10 meters from the shoreline and was hit by a tidal wave caused by a typhoon as they transferred the school to the new, safer site which was advantageous to the school children.
The Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) also passed a resolution approving and ratifying the deed of exchange while the DECS allegedly praised Rudy Soria for initiating the exchange.
The charge that the MECS was represented by Cecilia Soria without prior written authority does not appear to be a violation of RA 3019, the Court said.
It also found as significant the fact that up to the present, the DECS has not filed any legal action to nullify the deed of exchange. "The Court assumes that no action was taken by the DECS to impugn the deed of exchange because there was no sufficient basis for such action, as the transaction was favorable to it," Judge Barsaga noted.
"All told, an overall scrutiny of the records of this case leads the Court to no other conclusion but that the questioned deed of exchange was proper and it served the best interests of the community - the school children in particular," the Court emphasized. "Conviction cannot rest upon such meritorious acts of the accused.