Sandiganbayan nixes bid to exclude ghost projects from Revilla plunder trial
The antigraft court on Thursday postponed the start of former Sen. Bong Revilla’s plunder trial to June 1, after both the prosecution and the defense requested additional time to study the evidence they were expected to present.
“I hope we can proceed with the trial already,” Sandiganbayan First Division Justice Efren dela Cruz said.
The case is still hounded by various pretrial issues. The court just recently denied Revilla’s requests to exclude the issue of ghost projects from the trial and bring the bail hearing witnesses back to the stand.
The pretrial order is yet to be finalized, and without it, there would be no guidelines to govern the presentation of evidence at the trial.
This was the fifth time the start of trial was postponed, a fact that was not lost on Justice Geraldine Faith Econg who observed that the pretrial stage has lasted more than a year at this point.
“The problem is, it has been more than a year of pretrial. The Court Upstairs might scold us again, why the pretrial has become protracted,” Econg told the lawyers.
Office of the Special Prosecutor Director Joefferson Toribio said the premarking and comparison of exhibits could not be finished right away because some of the Special Allotment Release Orders (Saros) for Revilla’s Priority Development Assistance Fund disbursements still have to be delivered from the Caraga administrative region.
He haggled for at least four more sessions to complete the preparation of evidence. This would “ensure we do not have any more issues on the day of the trial” and avoid another postponement, he said.
Econg told Toribio to keep his commitment, and warned him that the court would no longer entertain further requests for an extension.
Dela Cruz said the Thursday hearings would now start on June 1 “to enable [the parties] to finally and once and for all complete the premarking and comparison of the exhibits.”
During the same hearing, the court denied Revilla’s memorandum which sought to block the issue of ghost projects from being raised during the trial for being irrelevant to his alleged receipt of P224.5 million in kickbacks.
Revilla’s camp, led by top defense lawyer Estelito Mendoza, pointed out that he was accused of receiving the commissions when he endorsed dubious nongovernment organizations linked to Janet Lim-Napoles, way before the implementation of the projects.
On the other hand, state prosecutors had argued that the failure to implement the projects due to the diversion of funds was precisely how Napoles allegedly earned the funds to pay off Revilla.
In open court, Dela Cruz cited “the prerogative of the prosecution” to thresh out the issue in the trial, even as the Revilla camp would rather not have to deal with the 77 witnesses.
The Revilla camp also wanted to recall the bail hearing witnesses, such as the pork barrel scam whistle-blowers and Commission on Audit Commissioner Susan Garcia, and grill them again for their testimonies.
Prosecutors had asked to include the summary of the witness statements in the list of “stipulations” or agreed-upon facts to expedite the trial, since they would reiterate the same testimonies anyway.
Since the Revilla camp would not accept that in order not to concede the veracity of the statements, the court instead opted for a slight tweak to the pretrial order.
Stipulations that are not disputed would fall under the heading “admissions of fact,” while a separate section called “admissions” will be devoted to summarize the testimonies made earlier.
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