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Sandiganbayan resets suspension hearing

/ 07:06 AM June 21, 2013

Manila – The Sandiganbayan yesterday postponed its “pre-suspension hearing” against Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and gave her lawyers until July 1 to file its comment on the graft and malversation case filed against her and seven others for the P98.9 million Balili land purchase.

This means no order for preventive suspension, if any, will be coming down before Garcia’s term ends on June 30.

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Associate Justice Teresita Diaz Baldos, who chairs the second division of the anti- graft court, said the court is still awaiting the submission of all pleadings on Garcia’s petition to the court to dismiss the motion seeking her preventive suspension.

“After the court receives the (defense panel’s) reply then it will resolve the motion to suspend. For all intents and purposes this is a pre-suspension hearing,” said Baldos.

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A preventive suspension is usually issued in the course of a trial to protect witnesses from intimidation or to avoid tampering of evidence by the accused.

Garcia entered a plea of not guilty during her arraignment last March 22.

She is facing two counts of graft and one count of malversation of public funds for the Cebu provincial government’s purchase of 24.7 hectares of beachfront property in Naga city for P98.9 million cash.

Almost 20 hectares of the 24.7 hectare estate was found to be under water.

Garcia’s lawyers insist there was nothing irregular in the transaction as the lots were properly registered and had land titles.

The Sandiganbayan gave Garcia’s lawyers until July 1 to reply to an opposition of the Ombudsman to the defense motion to dismiss the case.

SHE CAN FINISH

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Garcia can finish her term as governor without any legal impediment, said her lead defense counsel Tranquil Salvador III.

“What’s happening is being watched by lay people. If there will be another suspension order against the governor, that’s too much or better said, overacting,” Salvador told Cebu Daily News by phone.

What happens if a preventive suspension comes after June 30, when Garcia has already assumed her position as congresswoman of Cebu’s 3rd distict?

Salvador said the court would have to seek the permission of the House of Representatives first.

“No suspension order against her (Garcia) shall be implemented without the authority of the House. Maybe, congress will consent to it. But traditionally, the speaker of the House does not allow it,” he said.

Salvador and three other lawyers attended yesterday’s Sandiganbayan hearing of the prosecution’s motion to issue a preventive suspension order against Garcia.

Garcia was in Cebu holding office. She reported back for work as outgoing governor on June 19 after she finished serving her 180-day suspension by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) last Monday.

“We filed a motion to quash on May 21,” said Salvador, “the hearing was set on the 24th and the parties agreed to exchange comments. By June 14 we received their comment and we have 15 days to file a reply.”

Garcia has until July 1 to file its reply to the prosecution’s comment.

The Sandiganbayan granted the prosecution’s request for two days to file its reply.

“After the receipt of corresponding pleadings the motion will be submitted for resolution. For all intents and purposes, this is a pre-suspension hearing,” reiterated Associate Justice Baldos.

The Sandiganbayan scheduled the preliminary conference of the case on July 26.

In Cebu, Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol said it is mandatory for the Office of the Special Prosecutor to file a motion to suspend an accused pending litigation of the case. But he said it’s up to the Sandiganbayan whether to grant this.

He said a preventive suspension is issued by the court if evidence of guilt against the accused is strong or there is a proven risk that evidence would be tampered or witnesses would be intimidated.

Garcia is facing two counts of graft and one count of malversation of public funds for the Cebu provincial government’s purchase of 24.7 hectares of beachfront property now being developed as a coal ash waste landfill.

The purchase price was P98.9 million. Garcia denied that there was anything anomalous in the land purchase, saying she was “not aware” the property was under water because she relied on the report of the provincial appraisal committee, which omitted a technical report that described the coastal property as having almost 20 hectares of the 24.7 hectares under water.

According to prosecutors, 19.67 hectares of the 24.92-ha. property were submerged under water, and that public officials approved the purchase without a physical survey of the land. Named co-defendants were Provincial Board Member Juan Bolo, Provincial Budget Officer Emme T. Gingoyon, Provincial Appraisal Committee chairman and Provincial Assessor Anthony D. Sususco, Provincial Treasurer Roy G. Salubre and OIC Provincial Engineer Eulogio B. Pelayre, and private land owners Romeo and Amparo Balilil./INQUIRER and Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol

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TAGS: Cebu City, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Sandiganbayan
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