GMA bail hangs in balance

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has filed a formal offer of evidence before the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112, and now awaits the court's decision on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's bail petition.

The Comelec submitted its evidence “without prejudice to additional presentations of any documents or witnesses if ever,” said Comelec legal department head Esmeralda Ladra on Thursday, June 7, after the bail hearing for an electoral sabotage case against former Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos. (Read: Fuming Abalos walks out of Pasay court.)

“It's for the court to decide,” Ladra said.

This means the Comelec is still hoping that Pasay RTC Branch 112 would allow it to present its star witness in Arroyo's case, former Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas. (Read: Ampatuan aide tags GMA, Mike Arroyo in poll fraud.)

On Wednesday, June 6, Pasay RTC Branch 117 already allowed Abalos to post bail for another electoral sabotage charge.

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III feels that Arroyo could be granted bail next, given that Abalos faces a stronger electoral sabotage case.

Kay Abalos, meron pong mga eyewitness in the plural – at least dalawa ang alam ko. Eh kay GMA, isa lang,” Pimentel said Thursday. (In Abalos' case, there are eyewitnesses in the plural – at least two, as far as I know. In GMA's case, there's only one.)

'Bigger chance' for bail

Last week, the Comelec had a chance to present Unas but chose not to after another witness, Russam Mabang, disappeared. The Comelec said it did this “to make sure of his security.” 

Mupas then ordered the Comelec to make a formal offer of evidence, effectively barring the poll body from presenting Unas in the bail hearing. The Comelec was scheduled to do this Monday, June 4, but Mupas granted its appeal to make the formal offer Thursday instead.

Mabang's disappearance, as well as the Comelec's decision not to present Unas last week, gives Arroyo a “bigger” chance of posting bail.

“Even with the testimony of these two people, the case is already weak. Without the testimony of these people, it becomes much weaker,” said lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, who often speaks on legal matters concerning Arroyo.

The law allows those accused of capital offenses, like Arroyo, to post bail if there is no strong evidence of guilty. (Read: Burden on the prosecution to deny GMA bail.)

Nevertheless, Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr remains confident the court will not allow Arroyo to post bail. “After Unas testifies, she will not be allowed to post bail. I'm sure,” Brillantes said Wednesday. — Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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