Sandiganbayan junks Honasan’s PDAF graft case due to weak evidence

Published January 14, 2021, 9:59 AM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Sandiganbayan Second Division has junked the graft case of former Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II and his seven co-accused involving the alleged misuse of his P29.1 million priority development assistance fund (PDAF) back in 2012.

Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II (Gregorio Honasan FACEBOOK / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a 56-page resolution dated December 16, 2020, the anti-graft court granted the demurrer to evidence of Honasan and his co-accused, which 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. Since the court granted it, the case was 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 – Giovanni Manuel Gaerlan and Salvador Gaerlan.

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 (NCR) and Zambales.

Honasan endorsed Focus Development Goals Foundation, Inc. in June, 2012, as the implementing non-government organization (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.

But in its ruling, the anti-graft court noted the absence of bad faith in the actions of Honasan and his co-accused as well as their “precise degree of participation.”

With regards to Honasan, the court said the prosecution failed in proving beyond reasonable doubt that he unilaterally chose and endorsed Focus to implement his livelihood projects in violation of R.A. 9184.

To prove his guilt, the prosecution relied on Honasan’s letter dated June 5, 2012 addressed to Sadain and the undated MOA signed by Benjamin on his behalf. However, Honasan argued in his demurrer to evidence that Focus has already been selected prior to the NCMF’s receipt of his letter.

“Hence, the Court finds that it was not clearly established that accused Honasan indeed made prior endorsement of Focus,” the resolution stated.

The court also took cognizance of the accreditation committee created by the NCMF in compliance with the Commission on Audit (COA) Circular No. 2007-00. In this regard, the prosecution was unable to show that this mode of selection was not properly observed by the NCMF.

“Considering that manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and gross inexcusable negligence on the part of the accused has not been proven in selecting Focus as NGO partner, then unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference cannot be attributed to Focus, or to its officer, accused Giovanni Guerlan,” the resolution stated.

The prosecution did not succeed in proving the allegation of conspiracy among the accused in the release and disbursement of the PDAF. The court said there was no showing that they intended to do a criminal act.

The Second Division did not reach a unanimous decision in dismissing their charges, so a division of five was created. Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi penned the decision with the concurrence of Chairperson Oscar Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez while Associate Justices Bayani Jacinto and Zaldy Trespeses dissented.