Court wants to speed up Jinggoy bail hearing
MANILA, Philippines – Delaying tactics supposedly employed by both the prosecution and the defense in the bail petition of Senator Jinggoy Estrada prompted Sandiganbayan Fifth Division chair Justice Roland Jurado to compel both sides on Monday, November 17, to find a way to speed up the resolution of the case.
Estrada's bail hearing is moving at a snail's pace, compared to Senator Ramon Bong Revilla's, which is nearing summation. Both legislators are charged with plunder over the diversion of their pork barrel to fake non-governmental organizations, allegedly in exchange for millions of pesos in commissions.
The prosecution and the defense panels have accused each other of delaying the proceedings.
The prosecution was supposed to present state witness Merlina Suñas Monday morning after both sides finished grilling another witness, Mary Arlene Baltazar. Baltazar worked as a bookkeeper of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Suñas was already at Sandiganbayan and ready to take the witness stand, but the prosecution said her lawyer was suffering from hypertension and had to beg off from Monday's hearing.
There have been at least 4 occasions in the past when the prosecution failed to present the witness even if the court still had time to hear them, Jurado said.
Meanwhile, the prosecution has also accused Estrada of waging a "futile campaign to delay these proceedings" by filing motions seeking to suppress key evidence against him.
Estrada has filed two separate motions to revoke the immunity granted to state witness Benhur Luy on the grounds that he is among the "most guilty" in the pork barrel scam. He has also asked the court to throw out as evidence Luy's hard drive containing records showing that the senator received P183 million in kickbacks from the pork barrel scam.
At the rate things are going, Jurado said, Estrada's bail hearing could be finished "after the elections" in 2016. A defendant's application for bail must first be resolved before the case proper can be heard.
Jurado suggested that the prosecution makes use of the judicial affidavit rule, which allows legal counsels to just submit the written sworn statement of witnesses in a question-and-answer format in lieu of taking the stand.
The prosecution has so far not utilized this rule.
Another suggestion came from Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, who heads the prosecution panel. He said one of the way to fast-track the proceedings is to allow the prosecution to present witnesses without stipulation – an agreement made between opposing parties prior to a hearing.
The Supreme Court is set to rule on Estrada's petition alleging that the Ombudsman violated his constitutional right to due process when his request for copies of counter-affidavits of other respondents, new witnesses, and other filings were not granted prior to the filing of the case before the Sandiganbayan. (READ: Tight voting seen on Jinggoy's freedom)
In an ambush interview after the hearing, Estrada said he is "very disappointed" about the slow pace of the hearing.
"Paanong kami ang magde-delay? Unang-una ako ang akusado. Ako ang nakakulong. Bakit ide-delay ng abugado ko 'yung bail hearing. Siyempre gusto ng abugado ko na ma-expedite ang bail hearing para [tapos na]," he said. (Why would we delay the proceedings? I'm the accused, I'm the one in jail. Why would my lawyer delay my bail hearing? Of course my lawyer would want the bail hearings expedited, so the petition is finally resolved.) – Rappler.com