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MANILA, Philippines – To have a chance to join a family pilgrimage to Israel, former vice president Jejomar Binay submitted himself to conditional arraignment on Wednesday, May 10, before anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
Binay is facing charges of graft, malversation of public funds, and falsification of public documents for the allegedly overpriced construction of the P2.2-billion Makati City Hall parking building.
In April, Binay and his wife, former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay, filed their motions to travel before the court to join a two-week family pilgrimage to Israel.
On Wednesday, the court’s 3rd Division arraigned Binay, where he refused to enter a plea. The court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
There was a slight delay in the arraignment because Binay’s lawyers and division chair Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang disagreed on the specific implications of not entering a plea.
Cabotaje-Tang clarified and insisted that a manifestation to not enter a plea is equivalent to refusing to enter a plea.
This move by Binay’s lawyers, according to them, was meant to protect his rights as an accused. It signals their plans to have the corruption charges dismissed before they could reach trial. (READ: Prosecutors make it hard for Binays to go on a trip to Israel)
It was later revealed that Binay had filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the conduct of the preliminary investigation against him by the Office of the Ombudsman. Should the SC grant his petition, Binay could use it to his favor as he fights the charges before the Sandiganbayan.
Under the rules of court, there are legal remedies that can no longer be availed of if the accused has already been arraigned. For fear of losing these options, Binay’s lawyers filed a motion to amend the conditions. Under their proposed amendment, the arraignment shall be nullified upon return from the trip.
On the side of the court, they had to arraign Binay even before they found probable cause to do so because should he go into hiding, they can still proceed to what is called a “trial in absentia.”
The court denied Binay’s motion to amend the conditions, saying that his “petition to the Supreme Court has no material bearing on the standard conditions imposed by the Court during a conditional arraignment.”
“Even if the accused-movant underwent a conditional arraignment with the standard conditions attached thereto, his right to question his indictment in these cases will neither be lost nor barred should the Supreme Court eventually grant his petition,” the court said.
The court also clarified that under the conditional arraignment, Binay could still file a motion to quash.
Though conditional and done only to make way for the travel motion, this is Binay’s first time to be arraigned. The former vice president did not answer questions from reporters.
The Binays’ travel motions have been submitted to the court for resolution. They are seeking to fly to Israel on May 15. – Rappler.com