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No plea for Honasan in 'pork' cases

Sen. Gregorio Honasan listens to officials from the Department of National Defense during the hearing for their proposed P195.4 billion budget for 2018. Senate PRIB/Romy Bugante

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Gregorio Honasan II on Friday refused to enter any plea for his two graft cases in connection with the alleged misuse of P30 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel in 2012.

Appearing before the Sandiganbayan Second Division, Honasan, through his lawyer Dennis Manalo, tried to stop his scheduled arraignment, saying that the court has yet to resolve their camp's omnibus motion filed on September 18.

In his omnibus motion, Honasan prayed to the Second Division to quash the warrant of arrest that it earlier issued, to defer his arraignment and to eventually dismiss the case "for lack of probable cause" or, in the alternative, order the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct a reinvestigation of the case.

Manalo maintained that "there was a clear and blatant misinterpretation of facts by the [Ombudsman's] prosecution panel when they decided to file the cases."

Second Division chairman Associate Justice Oscar Herrera Jr., however, announced in open court the denial of Honasan's motion.

"We deny the omnibus motion. The period to file [the motion] should be within five days upon the receipt of the resolution," Herrera said.

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Herrera was referring to the court's August 7 resolution finding probable cause to conduct a formal trial of the cases and to order Honasan and the other respondents' arrest.

"We have to follow the rules of procedure. We have to comply with the rules. So, we will proceed with the arraignment," Herrera added.

Manalo asked for a five-minute break to confer with Honasan. When the session resumed, the clerk of court proceeded reading before the senator the allegations against him.

Honasan then responded that he was advised by his lawyer not to enter a plea.

The Second Division, in turn, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, in accordance with the Rules of Court.

Honasan immediately left the Sandiganbayan building after attending the proceeding refusing to talk about the allegations against him.

"It's in the court already. My counsel will take care of it," he said briefly.

Meanwhile the other respondents in the cases namely, Honasan's political affairs and project coordinator Michael Benjamin, National Council on Muslim Filipinos Director III Galay Makalinggan, acting chief Aurora Aragon-Mabang, secretary Mehol Sadain, acting chief accountant Fedelina Aldanese, and cashier Olga Galido all entered a "not guilty" plea.

Private respondent Salvador Gaerlan, president of the non-government organization Focus on Development Goals Foundation Inc. also pleaded not guilty.

Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman on August 1, the graft cases stemmed from the alleged payment of P29.1 million ofHonasan's PDAF to Focus for the supposed implementation of his programs and projects for the Muslim Filipinos in Metro Manila and Zambales.

The ombudsman said Honasan "unilaterally chose and endorsed" Focus to be the implementer of the projects without the benefit of a public bidding required under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

The Ombudsman said the respondents instead entered into a negotiated procurement with Focus "absence any appropriation law or ordinance" for such mode of procurement.

Based on the ombudsman's record, a total of P30 million of Honasan's PDAF was released by the Department of Budget and Management in April 2012 to NCMF as the implementing agency for the livelihood projects for Muslim Filipinos.

The ombudsman said the respondent NCMF officials processed the payment of a total of P29.1 million, given in two tranches, to Focus "with unusual accommodation and haste."

"Focus, as endorsed by Honasan, unduly profited from the questionable transactions, to the damage and prejudice of the Republic of the Philippines," the case information sheet read.

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