MANILA, Philippines – Justices of anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Thursday, April 20, gave marching orders and set final deadlines for both prosecution and defense teams in the plunder trial of former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, which they were forced to reset again.
The Sandiganbayan's First Division set the trial for June 1, its 6th schedule after 5 postponements since January.
This is to give way to the additional marking of voluminous evidence related to Revilla's pork barrel projects, which allegedly earned him P224.5 million in kickbacks.
One of the issues are documents that relate to special allotment release orders (SARO) which, according to the prosecution, are still with agencies in Region XIII.
Lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio defended the delay in the marking by saying that each SARO has 4 thick folders of evidence. Revilla's plunder case is connected to 16 SAROs all in all.
Who's causing delay?
Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg told Toribio: "That is your undertaking, prosecutor. That's your legal oath. So we will no longer hear you say that."
Toribio also complained that Revilla's lawyers were causing the delay. Revilla's chief of staff, Richard Cambe moved to withdraw documents for being illegible.
Toribio said that while they have managed to produce clearer copies, Revilla's lawyers are refusing to stipulate – or agree – that the clearer copies and the original illegible copies were one and the same.
"They want to bring back witnesses to stipulate," Toribio told the court on Thursday.
First Division Chair Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz did not accept the excuse and told Toribio it was the Revilla camp's prerogative to be thorough with the documents.
To lighten the mood, Dela Cruz told Revilla's lawyers present in the hearing: "He's just concerned for your client who is detained," which elicited laughter from the court.
Previously, Dela Cruz set the trial for May 11 but both parties had contentions that got the justice to say: "Instead of scheduling and rescheduling again, we might as well cancel May 11."
The court allotted 3 days in April and two days in May for the marking of evidence.
Telling parties to "once and for all finish" the marking of evidence, Econg turned to Toribio to say: "Baka kami ay mapagalitan na naman ng court upstairs why the pre-trial is protracted (The court upstairs might scold us again [on] why the pre-trial is protracted)."
Dela Cruz announced during the hearing that the court denied Revilla's plea to exclude some evidence and witnesses from the trial. The senator had argued that they are not relevant to his plunder charge. (READ: Will trial finally start for Bong Revilla's plunder case?)
Dela Cruz also said they will proceed with testimonies established during the bail trial. These include the testimonies of whistleblowers led by Benhur Luy, and representatives from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
Revilla's new lawyer, top defense counsel Estelito Mendoza, contested the inclusion of the testimonies which Revilla's previous lawyers had allowed. Dela Cruz said that the court could not simply exclude these testimonies just because a new lawyer is on board and wants to change things. (READ: Bong Revilla's biggest battle)
The prosecution is also set to present 48 local officials who will testify that the projects supposed to be funded by Revilla's pork barrel did not exist.
Revilla and Mendoza did not attend the Thursday hearing.
Mendoza has employed legal maneuvers in the Revilla plunder case, some similar to what he had done for another client, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile. The Sandiganbayan has junked all of Mendoza's motions, so far. (READ: Estelito Mendoza and his 2017 comeback in plunder cases) – Rappler.com