By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The graft case of former Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II and his co-accused has advanced after the Sandiganbayan Second Division granted their motions for leave to file demurrer to evidence, which will challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence.
A demurrer to evidence is an objection made by the defense arguing that the evidence produced by the prosecution is insufficient in point of law and will not be enough to sustain a guilty verdict. If the court grants it, the case will be dismissed.
Honasan was earlier slapped with two counts of graft together with Political Affairs and Project Coordinator Chief Michael Benjamin, National Council of Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Mehol Sadain, Acting Chief Accountant Fedelina Aldanese, Director III Galay Makalinggan, Acting Chief Aurora Aragon-Mabang, and Cashier Olga Galido, as well as private individuals from Focus Development Goals Foundation, Inc. — Giovanni Manuel Gaerlan and Salvador Gaerlan.
The charges stem from the alleged misuse of his P29.1 million priority development assistance fund (PDAF) in 2012.
On Oct. 29, Honasan and Benjamin filed their respective motions, while Aldanese filed hers on Oct. 30. Sadain, Makalinggan, and Mabang filed their motions on Nov. 4, Gaerlan filed his on Nov. 7, and Galido was the last to file the same motion on Nov. 18.
In his motion, Honasan said he is presumed innocent until his guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. He said the prosecution’s evidence should be placed under “severe testing” and should be scrutinized regardless of his evidentiary defenses. Benjamin adopted Honasan’s motion.
Aldanese, on the other hand, argued that there is no proof that she acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and gross inexcusable negligence. She added there were no acts of conspiracy with NCMF officials and Focus Foundation.
Sadain, Makalinggan, and Mabang averred in their motion that the PDAF was repeatedly upheld as valid by the Supreme Court (SC), and the absence of public bidding in the selection of the implementing non-government organization (NGO) is justifiable.
On the other hand, Galido said in her motion that the prosecution was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she conspired with the other accused to give unwarranted benefits, advantage, and preference to Focus Foundation. She said she was not even a member of the bids and awards committee (BAC) of the NCMF.
After carefully reviewing the motions of the accused, the anti-graft court decided to grant them. “After a judicious review of the pleadings of the parties, the Court resolves to grant the motions filed by accused-movants,” the resolution dated Jan. 7 reads.
They have been given a period of 10 days from receipt of the resolution to file their respective demurrers to evidence, and the prosecution has been given the same amount of time to file its comment.
The seven-page resolution was written by Associate Justice Lorifel Pahimna with the concurrence of Second Division Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi.
Honasan and his co-accused were indicted for releasing the former senator’s PDAF to the NCMF in April 2012, which was meant to help small and medium-scale livelihood projects for Muslim Filipinos in the National Capital Region and Zambales.
Honasan endorsed Focus Foundation on June 2012 as the implementing NGO. However, Ombudsman investigators discovered that the NGO was endorsed even without the benefit of compliance with procurement regulations.
At the same time, the check and disbursement voucher dated May 30, 2012 were prepared for Focus even before the NGO was informed it was qualified to undertake the project on June 4, 2012.