Sandigan denies motion of ex-Ilocos Sur town mayors on P81M graft, malversation charges

The Sandiganbayan has denied anew the motion filed former mayor Zuriel S. Zaragoza of Narvacan, Ilocos and his father, Edgardo, also a former mayor of the town, to file a demurrer to evidence and move for the dismissal of the graft and malversation charges filed against them for reportedly misappropriating P81 million intended for farmers in 2016.

The Zaragozas’ motion for reconsideration was denied by the anti-graft court in a resolution issued last Dec. 4. Their original motion to file a demurrer to evidence was denied by the court last Oct. 3.

A demurrer to evidence seeks the dismissal of the criminal charge on account of the alleged weakness of the prosecution’s evidence to sustain a conviction.  If the filing is allowed by the court and the demurrer is granted, the dismissal of the charge is tantamount to an acquittal.

The criminal charges against the Zaragozas were filed on July 18, 2022.  Their co-accused were municipal accountant Melody Cadacio, education research assistant Mario G. Cabinte, and Federation of Farmers of Narvacan Ilocos Sur president Constante A. Cabitac.

The prosecution claimed they caused undue injury to the municipality by allowing Zuriel Zaragoza to misappropriate P81 million intended for the benefit of the Federation of Famers of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur.

It said the funds were sourced from the local excise taxes on locally-manufactured Virginia-type cigarettes under Republic Act No. 7171, An Act to Promote the Development of Farmers in the Virginia Tobacco Producing Provinces.

In denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the Zaragozas, the Sandiganbayan said: “From the foregoing, the above-mentioned pieces of evidence adduced by the prosecution, which consist mainly of public and official documents, undoubtedly relate to the elements of the offense charged in the informations (criminal charge sheets)," the resolution stated.

"It is incumbent upon an accused who prays for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence to properly apprise the court of the reasons for which he is seeking such leave, hence, the absence of specific grounds relief upon on its motion only warrants the denial thereof," it said.

Associate Justice Edgardo M. Caldona wrote the resolution with the concurrence of Second Division Chairperson Associate Justice Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Associate Justice Arthur O. Malabaguio.