The Supreme Court has acquitted then Davao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. after it reversed the 2020 decision of the Sandiganbayan that convicted the former legislator for graft.
The SC has overturned the decision of the Sandiganbayan convicting Floirendo of graft charges for failure of the prosecution to prove that the former lawmaker has financial gained from the May 21, 2003 Joint Venture Agreement between the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc. (TADECO).
“For these reasons, the instant Appeal is granted. The Decision dated August 26, 2020 and Resolution dated January 22, 2021 of the Sandiganbayan in SB-18-CRM-0101 are reversed and set aside. Accused-appellant Antonio R. Floirendo Jr.· is acquitted of violation of Section 3(h) of Republic Act No. 3019. Let entry of final judgment be issued immediately. So ordered,” the SC resolution declared.
The graft complaint against Floirendo was filed with the Office of the Ombudsman in 2017 by then House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
After finding probable cause, the Ombudsman filed a criminal case against Floirendo before the Sandiganbayan where it accused the former congressman of “willfully, unlawfully and criminally have direct and/or indirect financial interest in the 21 May 2003 Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc.
(TADECO), in which company he then owned 75,000 shares of stocks worth P7.5 million and which company’s (TADECO) majority stocks were in turn owned by and under the control of accused’s family through Anflo Management and Investment Corporation, despite being prohibited by Article VI, Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution from having such financial interest.”
The charge arose from the 1969 JVA between TADECO and BuCor on the development of 3,000 hectares within the Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Davao del Norte into a banana plantation.
In 1979, the JVA was amended. The agreement was signed by then TADECO’s chairperson Antonio O. Floirendo Sr. and then BuCor officer-in-charge Ramon J. Liwag and approved by then Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong.
In 2003, the agreement was renewed for another 25 years.
At the time of the renewal of the agreement in 2003, Floirendo Jr. was Davao del Norte’s 2nd district congressman.
During the trial at the Sandiganbayan, Floirendo was the only witness in his defense. Among other things, he told the court that he is not an incorporator of TADECO which was incorporated in 1950 before his birth; he owns about 0.89 per cent of TADECO’s total outstanding shares which he acquired between 1977 to 1996; he had no involvement in the negotiation and execution of the 2003 JVA; he was neither TADECO’s director nor officer; and that the House of Representatives had no participation in the review or approval of the 2003 JVA.
On Aug. 26, 2020, the Sandiganbayan found Floirendo guilty beyond reasonable doubt and was sentenced to a prison term ranging from six years and one month as minimum to eight years as maximum with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
In overturning the anti-graft court decision, the SC said that it cannot “accept the Sandiganbayan’s view that the mere holding of an interest in a corporation to whom a contract was granted by the Government is enough to put a member of Congress within the purview of the constitutional prohibition.”
The SC stressed that the Constitution “must not have envisioned such a myopic view, for members of Congress would be at the mercy of the Anti-Graft Law for their nominal shareholdings in just about any corporation in whose favor the Government has actually granted and will in the future grant contracts to, even without doing any act in relation to, nor benefitting from, the same.”
“For sheer lack of evidence to prove that Floirendo Jr. was financially interested in the 2003 JVA, the Sandiganbayan casually declared that Floirendo Jr. never denied his financial interest in the 2003 JVA. This is unfounded,” the SC ruled. “If this Court were to give its imprimatur to the Sandiganbayan’s conviction, then it would open the floodgates to abusive prosecutions through speculations and surmises.”