Former councilor cleared of election overspending rap

A former councilor of Virac has been acquitted by the Regional Trial Court of the criminal charge of overspending during the campaign for the May 13, 2013 local elections.

In a six-page decision rendered Aug. 11, 2022, RTC Branch 43 Acting Presiding Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada said the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of Ephraim Antonio Gianan.

In October 2019, the Commission on Elections had accused the president of the Catanduanes Colleges, who ran under the Nationalist People’s Coalition in 2013, of unlawfully spending a total of P127,130.00 in his campaign as declared in his Statement of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE).

The amount exceeded by P2,561.00 the allowed expenditure limit of P124,479.00 or P3 for every registered voter of Virac, which then had 41,493 voters, pursuant to Republic Act 7166.

In his defense, the accused maintained that he did not spend more than the amount permitted by law and that it was his secretary, Ma. Paz Templonuevo, who prepared his SOCE.

He claimed that he scanned the document and then signed it without verifying its accuracy as he completely relied on the work of his secretary.

Gianan presented evidence that the excess in his supposed campaign expenditures as Templonuevo erroneously included as payroll for campaign aide the P4,500 salary of his farm employee, Wenifredo Zafe for the periods April 1 to May 15, 2013.

In her testimony, Templonuevo admitted that the error in the preparation of the SOCE was due to the fact that she was not well-versed with election rules and regulations and that she had been exhausted and confused as she was doing several tasks in addition to her duty as CC secretary.

Zafe also testified that he had been receiving the P4,500 monthly salary as administrator of Deborah Farm since 2009 and he denied having participated in Gianan’s election campaign.

In her ruling, Judge Gapas-Agbada said the prosecution failed to discredit Zafe’s testimony while the defense was able to substantiate that the inclusion of Zafe’s salary as the accused’s campaign expense was mere inadvertence.

“What should guide judicial action is the principle that a party-litigant should be given the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his complaint or defense rather than for him to lose life, liberty, honor, or property on technicalities,” the RTC stated, quoting a Supreme Court ruling.

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