Arroyo poll case: Count from A to Z, to the 12th powerBy Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Going by the prosecution’s plan, the electoral sabotage case against former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a very long way to go before it can be decided.
At the pretrial conference at Pasay Regional Trial Court Branch 112 Thursday morning, state prosecutors said they estimated one hearing day each for the presentation of 58 witnesses.
They also quantified their documentary evidence: “Count from A to Z, to the 12th power.”
Accused of electoral sabotage in the court of Judge Jesus Mupas are Arroyo, former Maguindanao Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol and former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Justice allege that Arroyo and the others conspired to manipulate the results of the 2007 senatorial elections to favor Arroyo’s allies.
Comelec lawyer Esmeralda Ladra, the lead prosecutor, said Comelec officials in Maguindanao and in the national office, as well as “major personalities” in politics and even the press, were among the prosecution’s witnesses.
She named Pia Hontiveros, a television news anchor, and Prospero Pichay, a former congressman and Arroyo ally, as potential witnesses.
“There are those who can corroborate the dinner at Malacañang,” Ladra said, referring to the alleged dinner at the Palace where Arroyo gave orders for the manipulation of the vote in favor of her candidates.
In earlier hearings, accused-turned-witness Norie Unas, former Maguindanao provincial administrator, said he accompanied Ampatuan to that dinner with Arroyo in the Palace.
The prosecution will recall Unas and other witnesses during the hearing on Arroyo’s bail petition, for the trial proper. Ladra reserved the prosecution’s right to call more witnesses “as necessary.”
Ladra also requested that the defense also present its evidence and list of witnesses simultaneously, “for fairness” and “to expedite the proceedings.”
Right to silence
Defense lawyers, however, invoked their clients’ “constitutional right to remain silent.”
Arroyo’s lawyer Benjamin Santos, said Ladra’s request violated Arroyo’s constitutional right, especially since the prosecution has yet to present the defense evidence proving its allegations.
“Our position is reactionary to what the prosecution will say or present … If they present evidence that is substantial, then definitely, we will present evidence and testimony to contradict that,” he told reporters, outside the court.
“But until then, we don’t need to do anything. All we have to do is remain silent,” Santos said.
“The prosecution must do its duty, it’s not our obligation to present the list first,” Bedol’s lawyer, Reynaldo Princesa, said in court.
“Under the rules, the prosecution must come first and then the defense will follow,” he said.
The pretrial conference will continue through September.