By Allison Lopez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: May 29, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — A historian was found guilty on Thursday by the Manila Regional Trial Court of stealing from the National Library nearly 2,000 documents of the revolutionary movement Katipunan which were sold to antique shops and collectors in the 1990s.

The Katipunan (Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mnga Anak ng Bayan, or Most Elevated and Esteemed Society of the Sons of the People) was the secret society founded by Andres Bonifacio that launched the revolution against the Spanish colonizers.

In a 16-page decision, Judge Thelma Bunyi Medina of the Manila RTC Branch 32 convicted Rolando Facinado Bayhon, formerly of the National Historical Institute, for qualified theft after he pilfered 1,859 documents valued at P800,000 from the Filipiniana and Asia Division (FAD) of the National Library.

Another case against him for taking 40 Philippine revolutionary letters valued at P2,000 was dismissed because the prosecution was unable to present his supposed buyer.

His friend and alleged accomplice, Maria Luisa Moral, ex-chief of the FAD, was acquitted by Judge Medina Thursday in a separate qualified theft case due to lack of evidence that she stole 51 items, including Rizaliana letters, for the same purpose.

Bayhon, who was sentenced by the court to 10-20 years imprisonment, was caught red-handed in September 1993 by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as he was about to sell 45 documents to an antique store on Mabini Street, Ermita.

An anonymous call made to then acting National Library director Adoracion Bolos that precious documents from the FAD were being stolen led to the surveillance on and eventual arrest of Bayhon.

Bolos’ appeal to the public to return the national treasures yielded more than 7,000 documents, including the manuscript of Andres Bonifacio’s trial, the Declaration of Independence, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato and Leonor Rivera’s letter to parents of national hero Jose Rizal dated December 10, 1893.

In its ruling, the court said the testimony of Vincent Padua, owner of the Manila International Coins and Stamps Center, that Bayhon sold him the documents was made “in clear and unequivocal terms.”

Padua’s testimony was deemed substantially corroborated by Bolos, who conducted a surveillance of the accused and eventually sought the help of the NBI.

Padua said the historian first went to his shop in February 1992 and offered original documents from the Revolutionary period. After verifying their authenticity, he bought the materials in seven to eight batches for P150,000, and sold it to collectors at P800,000, making a profit of P650,000.

Upon learning from media reports that the documents were stolen from the National Library, Padua spent over a million pesos to buy the items back from the collectors, and returned over 700 of these.

Bayhon said in his defense that he was merely a victim of Bolos’ revenge since he was supposedly being groomed as National Library director, being a protegé of NHI director Serafin Quiazon. He said Padua, whom he apparently did not know, was likely asked by Bolos to testify against him.

The court, however, did not buy his claims.

“To all these accusations and occurrences, which obviously brought accused in disgrace and humiliation, he simply put up as a defense that the same were sheer acts of vindictiveness on the part of director Bolos, who developed rancor and enmity against him for the reason that she had learned of the background check he made,” the judge said.

Judge Medina also pointed out that the historian did not offer any explanation on his arrest.

In Moral’s case, the court ruled that the prosecution failed to establish that there was “unlawful taking” of the documents stored in Vaults 1 and 2 of the FAD’s rare manuscripts section.

The former FAD chief, who was charged with taking 51 items from the vaults to which she had access, claimed the allegedly missing documents were inadvertently placed with her personal belongings when she moved to the Catalogue Division Office in July 1993.

Moral surrendered the items to the NBI only in May 1994. It included letters of Rizal to his family and to Leonor Rivera from 1881 to 1885.

The accused explained the delay was caused by her agony of giving them to Bolos, with whom she had a strained relationship.

It was Bolos who directed Moral’s transfer to the Catalogue Division after the accused protested an inventory of the Filipiniana section and called it a “waste of time.”

The court ruled that Moral’s version appeared “credible and convincing,” and that her fear to disclose the incident to someone hostile was “consistent with human nature.”

The determinative characteristic of theft, which was to dispose of the items, was also deemed not present in Moral’s case because the documents never left the National Library, stressed the court.

“In the same way, the element of intent to gain was not also established by the prosecution…The voluntary act of accused Moral in turning over said documents negates intent to gain,” Medina said.

Since the prosecution had fallen short of producing the required quantum of proof, the court said Moral was presumed innocent and must therefore be set free.

“This leaves the court with no option but to acquit Moral for insufficiency of evidence, at the very least, on reasonable doubt,” said the court.


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