Sandiganbayan bars lawyers of budget exec from withdrawing as counsel



MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan denied the motion of the lawyers of fugitive former budget undersecretary Mario Relampagos to withdraw as his counsel.

Relampagos was a co-defendant in 300 counts of graft and malversation cases for alleged participation in multi-billion-peso scams involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Malampaya Funds. While on an official trip to the US, Relampagos jumped bail, telling his lawyers that he has “lost all trust in the justice system.”

Relampagos is a co-accused in pork scam cases of former senators Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile. In those 3 cases, Relampagos was found to have signed 42 documents ordering the release of over P1 billion to fake nongovernmental organizations or NGOs.

The De Guzman Dionido Caga Jucaban and Associates Law Offices filed a motion, indicating that their client no longer intends to face trial. Relampagos’ lawyers Godofredo De Guzman, Arnold Caga, and Christopher John Lao told the court that their client called them on January 2 to let them know he was in hiding and no longer intended to face his cases.

He said he jumped bail partly because he could no longer afford legal expenses for bail bonds. The former DBM official went to the US in December an annual meeting of finance officials in Washington, DC and never returned. He also visited his daughter and grandchildren in Las Vegas.

Relampagos’ passport was ordered canceled and the court declared him a fugitive  from justice after he jumped bail. His cash and travel bonds were forfeited in favor of the government and a new arrest warrant was issued against him.

His lawyers told the court they could no longer continue as legal counsel of Relampagos because he has refused to listen to their advice for him to return home. But the court told them they need the consent of their client.

The Sandiganbayan said the same set of lawyers is still “in the best position” to defend Relampagos since they have defended him from the very start of the proceedings. Besides, they also handle the cases of other budget officials whose arguments are similar to those of Relampagos, the court said. –