Was Benhur into drugs? Court stops defense from questioning
MANILA, Philippines – Is Benhur Luy, state witness in the pork barrel scam and alleged kidnapping victim, a reliable witness?
During the trial proper of the serious illegal detention case against businesswoman, alleged pork barrel scam “mastermind,” and alleged kidnapper Janet Lim Napoles, her defense team assailed Luy’s credibility as a witness, asking him about any use of illegal substances in the past.
“Have you ever taken prohibited drugs?” asked Bruce Rivera, lead counsel of the defense.
“No...hydroxycut is not a prohibited substance,” answered Luy. “I’m a med tech.”
Hydroxycut is a weight loss supplement.
Rivera’s line of questioning, however, was opposed by the prosecution. Presiding Judge Elmo Alameda of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 agreed with the prosecution, reminding Rivera of the rules of cross examinations.
“The court will not allow your questions if your intention is to prove the bad character of the witness. The prosecution did not try to prove good character during the direct examination,” said Alameda.
Tuesday, July 1, is the last day of the prosecution’s presentation of Luy as a witness in the case. Luy is accusing Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim, of illegally detaining him from December 2012 to March 2013.
Napoles has been under detention at a Laguna camp since September 2013 over the kidnapping charges.
It’s not the first time Luy’s character was questioned by Napoles’ camp. Even before Napoles surrendered, her camp had been saying that Luy was is a habitual drug user.
Luy was taken to a “retreat house” in Magallanes, Napoles’ camp said in July 2013, because he was a “habitual user of the illegal drug ecstasy… [and because] he has his own gender confusion and sexual indiscretions.”
It’s something Luy’s camp denies. Luy claims he was detained after Napoles discovered he was transacting with other groups also doing a scam similar to Napoles' – that of siphoning off lawmakers' discretionary funds through fake non-governmental organizations. He also said Napoles and Lim kept him hidden because of what he knew about Napoles’ “transactions.”
Prior to asking Luy about any drug use, Rivera cornered the key witness into admitting that he never heard Napoles herself say he was being detained, outside of one incident on December 19, 2012. On December 19, Napoles allegedly had Luy detained.
“After December 19, did you ever hear Janet Lim Napoles threaten you or your family?” asked Rivera.
“Wala po,” answered Luy. (No.)
After being stopped by the prosecution from questioning Luy’s character, Rivera asked the court for more time to hold the cross examination of Luy. In a manifestation at the start of the hearing, Rivera explained that he only got a copy of the court’s official transcript of Luy’s last direct examination on the same day.
July 1 was the first day Rivera appeared before court as the official lead counsel for Napoles. He is the fourth to assume the role.
The first counsel for Napoles was Lorna Kapunan, followed by alleged scam agent Alfredo Villamor, and Napoles’ lead counsel for plunder and graft charges Stephen David.
Kapunan resigned on October 30 because of differences in strategy with Villamor. Villamor officially withdrew as Napoles’ counsel a few weeks ago. No reason was given for his withdrawal. David and his law firm have yet to withdraw as counsels of Napoles in the serious illegal detention case.
Rivera said he and his team – Jesus Vicente Capellan and Maritonie Renee Resurreccion – only got a copy of previous TSN (transcripts of stenographic notes), from when Luy testified as part of Napoles’ motion for bail.
The defense team had asked the court for a copy of the transcript Friday morning, but was told it was still being made. They sent a courier Monday afternoon, June 30, to get a copy of the transcript. But the court was closed because of a city hall-wide earthquake drill.
That’s why they were unprepared to continue the cross-examination, added Rivera.
‘When will defense be ready?’
The prosecution did not take this development lightly, accusing the defense of delaying the trial deliberately. “I am being honest here. This is not a delaying tactic,” Rivera answered curtly.
Prosecutor Christopher Garvida shot back at Rivera, saying: “Last time, [ Rivera] was allowed to do the cross [on July 1] because he was not ready. He's not ready again…. When will he be ready?”
Alameda eventually denied Rivera’s request, ordering the defense lawyer to continue the cross examination. Rivera waived his right to continue with the cross examination, allowing the prosecution to finally admit its evidence after it deferred holding a re-direct examination.
After the trial, Rivera vehemently denied delaying the case. “[The prosecution] will say that because they were here in the very beginning. I started in the middle. And of course, you need to correlate the new TSN to the previous TSN. The questions were additional direct questions which were also in addition to previous direct questions. Even if I get the TSN today, I cannot read that right away because I have to correlate it with the other testimony,” Rivera told reporters.
Rivera said that although Luy was dismissed and the prosecution had already rested its case, they were “other ways” to get Luy back on stand. Rivera said there are more details they want to get out of the star witness.
Still, the new lead counsel and spokesman for Napoles was dismayed over recent court developments. “We expected fair play…. Apparently we did not get it today,” he said. – Rappler.com