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Abalos arraigned, enters no plea

Former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The Pasay City Regional Trial Court on Wednesday went ahead and arraigned former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. despite his insistence on his right to appeal a decision junking  his contention that the lower court did not have jurisdiction over the electoral sabotage case against him.

In rejecting Abalos’ motion to stay the arraignment,  Judge Eugenio de la Cruz of RTC Branch 117 asserted his earlier ruling would stand whether or not the former Comelec chairman brings the matter of jurisdiction to the appellate court.

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The judge had the court staff read the criminal information against Abalos and his coaccused, former South Cotabato election supervisor Lilia Suan-Radam, who pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of electoral sabotage.

When the staff turned to Abalos, in his grey suit, after taking note of Radam’s plea, the former Comelec chair stood silent. Judge de la Cruz entered the not guilty plea on Abalos’ behalf in light of the latter’s silence.

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Later in the hearing, Abalos took the reins from his lead counsel, Brigido Dulay, and personally argued against the prosecution’s plan to present nearly two dozen witnesses  for his bail hearing scheduled at the end of this month.

Dulay had asked the court if it could proceed with the bail hearing initially scheduled yesterday, but election prosecutors led by Comelec law department head Esmeralda Ladra sought a preliminary conference to discuss minute details like witnesses and evidence to be presented in the proceedings.

When Ladra told the court  the prosecution intended to present 22 witnesses, on top of voluminous documents, the judge reminded the prosecutor that the bail hearing was “summary in nature.”

She argued the prosecution needed to present the witnesses  to establish conspiracy between Radam and Abalos.

It was at that point that Abalos pleaded to the court to allow him to speak in his own behalf.

Judge de la Cruz allowed the accused to speak on the condition that he would not do it again in the succeeding hearings.

As to how many witnesses the prosecution could present for the bail hearing, Abalos pointed out that they could present “only two witnesses—Radam and [Yogie Martirizar]—to establish my participation, if any.”

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He added that all the witnesses  identified in the prosecution’s list merely established probable cause, “which the court had already done when it issued a warrant of arrest.”

After about an hour of debate and discussion, the prosecution agreed to trim its witness list to the two former Comelec employees.

After the hearing, Abalos told reporters he took over from  his counsel because there were “some details in the case that I knew firsthand” being a former Comelec chair.

His son, Mandaluyong Benhur Abalos, said he could not restrain his father despite the additional stress on the 77-year-old accused, who has been complaining of  high blood pressure while in detention.

The elder Abalos maintained his “amazement” at the charges against him, saying he even ordered the prosecution of Radam and Martirizar when the Comelec en banc discovered irregularities in South Cotabato.

Originally posted at 10:03 am | Wednesday, March 07,  2012

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TAGS: Benjamin Abalos, courts, electoral sabotage, Health, Judiciary, Pasay court, Pasay RTC, Politics
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