Pasay court grants Abalos bail
Citing the prosecution’s failure to present a star witness who was supposed to implicate the accused, the Pasay City Regional Trial Court on Wednesday granted the bail petition of former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos.
But at the same time Judge Eugenio de la Cruz issued a hold-departure order against Abalos to prevent him from leaving the country while the electoral sabotage case against him was being heard.
And even if Abalos were able to post the P2.2 million bail, he cannot just walk out of detention at the Southern Police District headquarters because of another electoral sabotage case against him being heard at another court.
Abalos’ bail petition at the Pasay RTC Branch 112, where he is facing two counts of electoral sabotage, still has to be resolved.
No compelling reason
In the order issued in open court, De la Cruz said he did not find any compelling reason to deny Abalos’ petition to post bail for 11 counts of electoral sabotage, which is a nonbailable criminal offense.
“At the present conjuncture, it is impossible to state that [the] evidence of guilt is strong when [the witness’] testimony was not presented and not subjected to cross-examination,” the court said.
“It must also be considered that the accused is of advanced years at 76 years old and of failing health…the court cannot ignore the humanitarian issue involved in the case at bar” it added.
De la Cruz set Abalos’ bail at P200,000 for each count of electoral sabotage, which comes to a total of P2.2 million.
State prosecutors were relying on the testimony of former South Cotabato election supervisor Lilian Suan Radam—a co-accused in the case—to nail Abalos in the alleged rigging of the 2007 senatorial poll results in the province.
However, they failed to present Radam in court for reasons of health and other circumstances.
Radam’s lawyer Nena Santos and state prosecutors have been seeking Radam’s discharge as an accused and have her accepted as a state witness.
The Comelec en banc, however, rejected the proposal last April, with majority of the commissioners upholding a 2008 resolution that ordered the filing of electoral sabotage charges against Radam, who is currently under the Department of Justice (DOJ) witness protection program.
Attempt to discharge accused
Abalos’ lawyer, Brigido Dulay, on Wednesday continued to question the DOJ’s attempt to have Radam discharged as an accused, pointing out in open court that the Comelec had already found her to have engineered the 12-0 administration sweep of the senatorial poll in South Cotabato.
“Radam admitted to falsifying and tampering the election returns which proves that she is not only the author of the electoral fraud but also the most guilty. So why is she being discharged as a state witness?” Dulay said.
Absence of proof
Abalos, through his lawyer Brigido Dulay, said: “It’s only legal and fair that I be granted bail considering that there is no proof that the evidence against me is strong.”
Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos, the son of the ex-Comelec chief, said the grant of bail bouyed the family’s hopes that his father would soon be free.
The mayor said his father, upon hearing the decision, became so excited to smell fresh air, walk in the sun and tend to his fish ponds in the province.
“All of us felt relieved. We began to look forward to seeing him sleeping in his own bed,” Benhur Abalos said in a phone interview.
Although overjoyed by the De la Cruz decision, he said the family was still unsure if Jesus Mupas of Branch 112 will decide favorably on his father’s petition for bail.
“But we are hopeful that the judge will render the same decision because the cases are very much identical. The point here is my father is not a flight risk as Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes earlier attested. He’s already 77 years old… and he has been present in all the hearings,” the young Abalos said.
De la Cruz said he was issuing a hold-departure order against Abalos “to ensure that the accused, who is a man of means, remains available for trial and does not leave the country.”
The young Abalos said the decision of De la Cruz should set a precedent on the other cases.
Even if Mupas had earlier cited Abalos and his lawyers for contempt when they accused him of extortion, the Abalos camp is giving the judge the benefit of the doubt that he will be fair, the mayor said.
Abalos, who has been detained for six months now, earlier refused to petition for a hospital arrest but instead filed a “very urgent” motion for house arrest.
His lawyers cited his weakness and “fragile state.”
“We are very optimistic. I even told him to have his photos taken in jail so we can process his bail soon,” the mayor said. With Tetch Torres, INQUIRER.net
Originally posted at 09:46 am| Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.