MANILA - Citing strong prosecution evidence, the Sandiganbayan 6th Division has denied the motion that former Naga City, Cebu Mayor Valdemar Chiong filed seeking leave of court to lodge a demurrer to evidence in his graft case.
Chiong is facing one count of graft for the issuance of a business permit to a liquefied petroleum gas company in 2014 despite its lack of a fire safety inspection certificate.
The court said Chiong may still opt to file a demurrer to evidence, a pleading that seeks the dismissal of a case citing insufficient prosecution evidence, without leave of court.
The court, however, warned that with the denial of his motion for leave, his case will be considered submitted for judgment upon his filing of demurrer to evidence and may no longer present defense evidence.
“This is without prejudice to the filing by accused Chiong of a demurrer to evidence without prior leave of court, but subject to the legal consequence provided under Section 23, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, that is, he shall waive his right to present evidence and is submitting this case for judgment on the basis of the evidence adduced by the prosecution,” the court said in the resolution promulgated on December 13, 2018.
Under such rule, an accused "waives the right to present evidence and submits the case for judgment on the basis of the evidence for the prosecution" if he or she files a demurrer to evidence without leave of court.
The decision was penned by Division Chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Kevin Narce Vivero.
The court added if Chiong does not present his counter-evidence, he may be handed down a guilty verdict as the prosecution has presented "sufficient" proof.
“After a careful study of the documentary and testimonial evidence presented by the prosecution, the court finds that, if unrebutted, the same is sufficient to support a verdict of guilt against accused Valdemar M Chiong,” the court said.
In 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Chiong before the Sandiganbayan and disqualified him from holding public office as he was found guilty of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty.
In the information filed by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan, Chiong allegedly gave Petronas Energy Philippines a business permit despite its failure to present a fire safety inspection certificate.
The anti-graft court also noted in the resolution that government prosecutors presented four witnesses and insisted on a guilty verdict, while Chiong claimed there was no sufficient evidence to convict him beyond reasonable doubt.
In case Chiong decides not to file a demurrer to evidence, the court set hearings for his presentation of evidence on January 16, 23 and 24, 2019.
“The said scheduled dates will be considered automatically cancelled upon receipt by the court of the demurrer to evidence of accused Chiong,” the court said.