Sandiganbayan allows use of envoy’s testimony in case vs former justice chief Hernando Perez

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Sandiganbayan allows use of envoy’s testimony in case vs former justice chief Hernando Perez

ANTI-GRAFT COURT. The Sandiganbayan in Quezon City, June 30, 2018.

Darren Langit/Rappler

The case stems from the $2 million cash allegedly paid by the late Manila lawmaker Mark Jimenez to Perez in February 2001

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan, the country’s anti-graft court, has allowed the Office of the Ombudsman to adopt the deposition of a former envoy as her testimony in the unexplained wealth case against former Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez.

In its resolution, the anti-graft court set aside the concern raised by businessman Ernest Escaler, among the co-respondents in the case, to expunge from the records the testimony of former consul to the Philippine Embassy in Switzerland Lilibeth Pono. The case centers on Perez’s $2 million unexplained wealth.

The Sandiganbayan denied Escaler’s motion due to lack of merit.

“Consul [Gerardo] Abiog’s act of taking the deposition of Ambassador Pono was an official act; hence, the same enjoys the presumption of regularity which may only be overcome by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary,” the court said. Abiog is a consul of the Philippine embassy in Berlin, Germany.

The anti-graft court added that the answers in Pono’s deposition, including in her cross-interrogatories, are not beyond her perception: “(T)hese actions of Ambassador Pono were well within her defined duties and responsibilities as the former Consul of the Republic of the Philippines in Berne, Switzerland.”

The respondents had challenged the authority of Abiog, arguing that he should be disqualified for being an employee of the state, which is the petitioner in the case.

In its latest resolution, the Sandiganbayan warned Escaler’s lawyers for trying to revive the concern over Abiog and said the issue had already been discussed and rejected several times. The court added that it will no longer entertain any submission on the issue and any attempt “shall be dealt with accordingly.”

“The resurrected claim of the counsels of the respondents that Consul Abiog is disqualified to administer the deposition despite its earlier repeated rejection by the Court already borders on contemptuous conduct,” the Sandiganbayan said.

What happened before

According to government lawyers, Pono issued a certificate of authentication covering documents in relation to Ombudsman’s inquiry into the paper trail of alleged undeclared bank deposits of Perez. This includes the sums that went into two accounts at EFG Bank SA in Geneva Switzerland.

In 2014, the case docketed as SB-14-CVL-0002 was filed before the Sandiganbayan seeking the forfeiture of Perez’s alleged unlawfully acquired property as provided under the Republic Act No. 1379. The case stemmed from a probe into the alleged $2 million cash paid by the late Manila lawmaker Mark Jimenez to Perez in February 2001 – allegedly in exchange for his exclusion in the plunder indictment of former president Joseph Estrada.

Businessman Escaler was named co-respondent due to the allegations of undeclared bank deposits of Perez, his wife Rosario, and brother-in-law Ramon Arceo. In the complaint, the Ombudsman said Perez failed to disclose a $1.7 million fund transfer to his bank that allegedly came from Escaler.

Regarding Pono’s participation in the probe, the Ombudsman said Pono has been in the foreign service since 1997, and her statements were based on direct knowledge of the documents she was told to identify. This was because she was the consul assigned at the Philippine Embassy in Switzerland in 2012.

Escaler had tried to block Pono’s deposition and said her testimony was merely hearsay due to lack of personal knowledge. He had also invoked the privileged nature of the matters discussed in Pono’s deposition and said those matters should be excluded by the law. –

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