MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) – After one year and two months, the Sandiganbayan finally started the proceedings on the graft case of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in connection with the mothballed National Broadband Network deal.
The prosecution started today its presentation of evidence with Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño as one of its initial witnesses. Casiño is one of the complainants who filed the case before the Ombudsman last September 2011.
Casiño was grilled by the defense when he took the witness stand Wednesday morning. Arroyo's lawyer, Atty Jose Flaminiano, questioned Casiño about his personal knowledge on the events that took place on the alleged acceptance of the Arroyo couple of the $30 million supposed bribe from Chinese firm ZTE Corp.
Casiño admitted that he did not actually witness the alleged exchange of money between Arroyo and the ZTE executives in China but his knowledge was based on the Senate investigation report that took into consideration first hand witnesses’ testimonies.
Flaminiano, however, maintained that complainants should have personal knowledge and not rely on other's testimonies. "Puro hearsay," Flaminiano said.
Casiño, for his part, said his appearance was merely to prove that he is the complainant and not as an actual witness to the alleged bribery. "There will be witnesses that will have personal knowledge," he said.
He noted that it’s not a requirement for the Ombudsman that a complainant like him should be a first hand witness to the illegal acts. "Kung ire-require lahat ng complainant sa ganun kataas na standard na dapat nakita, eh baka wala nang mag-complain.”
He added: “Ang anonymous tip nga eh pwede na aksyunan ng Ombudsman, ito pa kayang may mga testimony.”
Next to take the witness stand tomorrow is whistleblower Jun Lozada.
Casiño said Lozada is one witness who will have personal knowledge since he is one of those involved in the actual packaging and approval of the contract. Also expected to act as witnesses in future hearings are Dante Madriaga, Ruben Reyes, and Romulo Neri.
Neri has filed a motion to quash the subpoena for alleged lack of jurisdiction on the part of the Sandiganbayan to hear the case. Arroyo also previously filed the same petition before the Sandiganbayan.
The justices, however, have yet to rule on the motion since they gave the prosecution more time to comment on the pleading.
Neri was being subpoenaed by the court to act as a hostile witness for the prosecution after he testified during the Senate hearing that he was offered P200 million to approve the project.