Ex-government official acquitted for smuggling-A A +A
By Bong Garcia
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
THE Court of Appeals (CA) acquitted a Zamboangueño businessman who has served as Mindanao’s economic consultant to former President Joseph Estrada on charges of smuggling and violation of the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990.
The ruling came as the CA, in a 30-page decision handed down last Friday, reversed and set aside the February 8, 2010 decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 12 that found Wee Dee Ping, who is popularly known as Le Peng Wee, guilty on both charges.
The court, however, has affirmed in toto the conviction of Wee’s co-accused, namely, locally-based businesswoman Nancy Lim and Malaysian businessman Tan Nge Foo, on the smuggling charge.
Like Wee, Lim and Tan were acquitted on the case for violation of Republic Act 6969, or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990.
The two cases stemmed from the June 30, 2000 confiscation of 39 drums of assorted chemicals that were used to manufacture foam that came from Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia.
Customs authorities intercepted and seized 19 of the 39 drums aboard a closed van at the exit gate of the port of Zamboanga since no documents like import entry and payment receipt of duties and taxes due were presented to them.
The other 20 drums were seized at the warehouse of Lim after it was brought out of the port without paying the duties and taxes due to the government.
The CA has reversed and set aside the decision on the smuggling case filed against Wee after the appellate court noted the lower court erred in giving credence and weight to hearsay testimony.
“Appellant Wee Dee Ping’s contention that the court a quo erred in giving credence and weight to hearsay testimony of prosecution witnesses as basis of his conviction is tenable,” the CA stated in its decision.
The CA cited Section 36 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court that provides “a witness can testify only to those facts which he knows of his personal knowledge; that is, which are derived from his own perception, except otherwise provided in these rules.”
Wee was implicated in the two cases after he was named as the consignee of the shipment of 39 drums of assorted chemicals.
Also, Wee, who was at that time the presidential consultant on Mindanao’s Economic Affairs of Estrada, has requested customs authorities here to provide assistance to several foreign investors who wanted to come over to Zamboanga City to do business.
“It would appear that appellant Wee Dee Ping as then the Presidential Consultant for Mindanao Economic Affairs, was only exercising his authority as such when he invited prospective foreign investors to invest in Zamboanga City. It is neither proof that he was involved in the smuggling nor he was the owner of the subject drums in this case; and to impute criminal liability on this basis is speculative and bereft of probative value,” the CA said in its decision.
The CA, in reversing and setting aside the decision on the charge for violation of RA 6969, stated that “the prosecution, again, failed to discharge the burden of proving that the chemicals involved herein are hazardous waste and/or nuclear waste. Its own witnesses, without reservations, admitted that no confirmatory tests were ever conducted by the DENR, the lead agency tasked to implement Republic Act 6969, to determine the composition and identify of the said chemicals.”
“There was no iota of evidence adduced by the prosecution against Mr. Wee,” said lawyer Ma. Corazon Montemor of the Cajayon Montemor Tamin Law Office that provided legal services to Wee.
Wee, in a press conference Wednesday, has expressed sigh of relief over his acquittal, citing “many opportunities were lost” since the time the cases were filed against him.
Wee said he even discovered who his real friends are during his trials.
It was the full support of his family that kept him strong while the cases filed against him are being heard, Wee said.