Saturday, September 6, 2014
Sen. Enrile Pleads Not to 15 Counts of Graft Charges
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile entered this plea when he was arraigned yesterday morning at the Sandiganbayan Third Division on 15 counts of graft charges in connection with the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
Enrile’s co-accused, suspected pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, also entered a not guilty plea to the same counts of graft charges.
But another co-accused – lawyer Jessica Lucila Reyes, Enrile’s former chief of staff – refused to enter any plea.
Reyes’s counsel, lawyer Anacleto Diaz, told reporters that she did not enter any plea due to legal remedies that they are seeking before the Supreme Court.
Last July 11, Enrile was also arraigned on plunder charges.
Enrile and his co-accused were charged for allegedly conspiring to cause the government undue injury amounting to around P345 million for all 15 counts of graft in diverting and receiving kickbacks from his PDAF to finance ghost projects of Napoles.
Diaz explained that the remedies Reyes are seeking would be rendered “academic” if she entered a plea.
“In order to preserve these remedies, we are not entering a plea. That’s a recognized legal remedy that anyone can resort to,” he told media.
Diaz said they sought before the Supreme Court the nullification of an Ombudsman resolution finding probable cause “because we have been deprived due process of law.”
“Yung sworn statement na pinagbasihan ng probable cause hanggang ngayon wala kaming kopya despite repeated requests (In spite of repeated requests, up to now we still have not received copies of the sworn statements that were used as basis for finding probable cause),” Diaz lamented.
Apart from Reyes, Enrile’s co-accused who refused to enter any plea were Jose Antonio Evangelista II, 15 counts of graft; Rhodora Mendoza, seven counts; and Victor Roman Cacal, six counts.
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang, who is also the Third Division chairman, said the court, in accordance with the Revised Rules of Court, entered not guilty pleas on behalf of those who refused to enter pleas.
Enrile’s other co-accused who also pleaded not guilty were: Dennis Cunanan, two counts of graft; Francisco Figura, two counts; Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana, two counts; Marivic Jover, two counts; Encarnita Christina Munsod, one count; Maria Ninez Guanizo, six counts; Consuelo Lilian Espiritu, one count; Gondelina Amata, six counts; Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal, six counts; Ofelia Ordonez, six counts; Filipina Rodriguez, six counts; Chita Jalandoni, six counts; Sofia Cruz, six counts; and Gregoria Buenaventura, five counts.
Those who were supposed to be arraigned yesterday but did not appear were Jocelyn Piorato, Mylene Encarnacion, Eulogio Rodriguez, Evelyn de Leon, and Nitz Cabilao. Tang immediately ordered their bonds cancelled and gave their lawyers 10 days upon receipt of the notice to show cause why they should not be cited for contempt for failing to appear.
Associate Justice Samuel Martires underscored the need for a speedy preliminary conference in order to immediately begin the trial proper for the graft cases.
“If you consider the number of accused in this case, the preliminary conference will take months. After all there are only four matters to be discussed – plea bargaining, manifestation of objections, stipulation of facts and the marking of evidence,” Martires told both the prosecution and defense panels.
As part of the pre-trial stage, a preliminary conference is meant to shorten the trial period itself by accomplishing tasks that would otherwise eat up a lot of time during the actual proceedings.
However, constraints on the prosecution and defense lawyers’ schedules and the voluminous documents involved in the case are expected to push the beginning of the graft trial to May 2015.
The prosecution alone said that they had “around 2,000 pages” of documents that need to be marked. As it is, both panels are amenable to meeting only once a week – Thursday – for the purpose.
Citing the marking of evidence as “the most important,” Martires initially challenged the lawyers to finish or terminate the preliminary conference stage within 10 days if only to hasten the proceedings.
Meanwhile, Reyes asked the Sandiganbayan to allow her to use her laptop with Internet access in jail so she can better prepare for her defense.
In a motion filed with the Sandiganbayan Third Division, Diaz lamented that “with her detention and medical condition, accused Reyes is already handicapped in assisting her counsel prepare her defenses for trial.”
“Allowing accused Reyes to use a laptop computer with printer and Internet connection while in detention will mitigate this handicap as it would allow accused Reyes to access and review the evidence for and against her, recollect, write, encode and store her narration of vital facts and arrange her documentary exhibits in orderly fashion for their submission in Court,” the motion explained
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