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Sandigan junks ex-Palawan execs’ bid to dismiss raps

MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has denied the appeal of three former provincial government officials of Palawan to be allowed to seek the early dismissal of the graft and falsification cases filed against them in connection with the alleged misuse of P1.534 billion worth of proceeds from the Malampaya gas project in 2008.

In a 13-page resolution promulgated on April 2, the anti-graft court’s second division denied the motions of former Palawan provincial engineers Bernard Zambales and Romeo Llacuna as well as former senior technical audit specialist Ronelo del Socorro to reconsider its ruling on Jan. 3, which denied their motion for leave to file a demurrer to evidence.

A demurrer would have allowed the accused to seek the outright dismissal of their cases without presenting their defense, but based solely on the ground of the supposed weakness of evidence presented against them by the prosecution team of the Office of the Ombudsman.

The second division said Zambales, Llacuna and Del Socorro failed to raise any new argument in their appeal that would warrant the reversal of its earlier resolution.

The court reiterated that the ombudsman’s prosecution panel was able to present sufficient evidence against the three former provincial government officials.

The second division had earlier denied the respective motions to file a demurrer of the other defendants, including former Palawan governor Joel Reyes.

The cases stemmed from the provincial government’s award of 203 contracts worth P1.534 billion to 11 firms.

The money for the contracts was supposedly drawn from proceeds of the Malampaya natural gas extraction operation in the province.

The ombudsman said Reyes and the other accused conspired to approve the release of payments to the contractors despite the lack of supporting documents and “incompleteness of the projects.”