MANILA – A former senior finance official charged in one of the cases involving alleged irregularities in the grant of tax credits to unqualified local firms 25 years ago has been cleared by the Sandiganbayan.

In a decision dated April 19, Uldarico Andutan Jr. was acquitted of falsification and graft arising from one of the transactions for tax credits while he was Deputy Executive Director of the Department of Finance (DOF) One-Stop Shop Inter-Agency Tax Credit and Drawback Center.

Andutan was charged when he issued a tax credit certificate (TCC), amounting to PHP5.03 million in favor of Columbus Philippines Bus Corporation’s purchase of six buses.

Government investigators said Columbus was not qualified to avail of tax credit for the said purchases as the buses were acquired from a dealer, not from a domestic manufacturer as required for the incentive.

They also said the company supported its application for tax credit with spurious and falsified documents and with the price per bus unit overstated.

The charge in the Columbus case against Andutan’s boss, former undersecretary Antonio Belicena who was the center’s Executive Director, was dismissed on January 14  following his death.

The center’s Officer-in-Charge for Net Local Content/Net Value Equipment and Domestic Capital Equipment, Raul de Vera, and senior specialist Rosanna Diala, were similarly acquitted on Feb. 14, 2020.

“Considering that accused Andutan is not the approving authority, and there being no conspiracy between him and Belicena, the former cannot be held criminally responsible for the approval of Columbus’ tax credit application,” the anti-graft court said in its decision.

“Neither can accused (Andutan) be faulted for his recommendation (to issue TCCs to Columbus) since the prosecution failed to prove that he had prior knowledge that Columbus is not so qualified or entitled to the tax credit applied for,” it said.

The court ruled that documentary evidence presented by the prosecution were not part of the documents submitted for Andutan’s consideration as the said delivery receipts and vehicle invoices issued by Diamond Motor Corporation showing the true purchase price of the vehicles were gathered only later during a special probe of the National Bureau of Investigation.

A private co-accused, Columbus' former president Amelia de Dios, remains at large.

Before his death, Belicena’s lawyers sought a suspension or dismissal of proceedings due to dementia which rendered him incompetent to stand trial.

In 2021, the Supreme Court also upheld the 2011 ruling of the Sandiganbayan, clearing Belicena in a plunder case involving another company in the TCC scam. (PNA)