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SB convicts former Negros Occidental exec over jai-alai operations

The Sandiganbayan has convicted former officer-in-charge Ramsey Panes of the Permits and Licenses Division of Victorias City, Negros Occidental, for allowing one Gaudencio Corona to operate an illegal Jai-Alai betting station in the city. Panes was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 3(j) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019) and was sentenced to suffer imprisonment of six to eight years with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

 Records of the case show that Panes and co-accused ex-Mayor Severo Palanca granted Corona a business permit in June 2010 notwithstanding his belated filing of documents to support the application such as Department of Trade and Industry registration, certificate of business name, and the Articles of Incorporation.  In the application, Corona misrepresented that he was operating under the legislative authority of Meridien Vista Gaming Corporation.

 Ombudsman prosecutors, however, proved during the trial that Panes and Palanca failed to exercise their duty of examining the propriety of the documents submitted by Corona as these readily show that Meridien did not have a legislative franchise to operate a jai-alai or set-up betting stations outside of the Cagayan Economic Zone.

 â€œThe defense of the accused that the business permit issued is provisional in nature and that the same was eventually cancelled due to the failure of Corona to install a betting machine in Victoria City is of no moment, because what the law seeks to punish is the act of knowingly granting a permit to a person who is not entitled to it, which is present in this case,” the anti-graft court stated.

 The business permit of Corona was cancelled in July 2010 after the local police apprehended his operators and cobradors.

 â€œThe nature of the business applied for should have prompted the accused to exercise prudence, in view of the fact that existing laws declared Jai-Alai as a prohibited game,” it added.

 Republic Act No. 954 (An Act To Prohibit Certain Activities in Connection with Horse Races and Basque Pelota Games or Jai-Alai) outlawed the collection of bets outside the places where Jai-Ali is played, while the Office of the Government Owned and Controlled Corporation cancelled the operation and licensing of Jai-Alai and stated in its Opinion dated 31 March 2009 that a person needs a legislative franchise before he could operate the same.

 Meanwhile, the charge against Palanca was dismissed in view of his death.

 Under Section 3(j) of R.A. No. 3019, it shall be unlawful for public officials to knowingly approve or grant a license, permit, privilege, or benefit in favor (1) of a person not qualified or not legally entitled to such license, permit or privilege or advantage or (2) of a mere representative or dummy of one who is not so qualified or entitled.

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