MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - The Sandiganbayan 1st division entered a not guilty plea for former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office chairman Manuel Morato after he refused to enter any plea during the arraignment for his plunder case over the alleged misuse of over P300 million in PCSO funds.
Morato was advised by counsel Anacleto Diaz not to enter a plea due to the pendency of their motion for certiorari against the case at the Supreme Court.
The High Court has not ruled on the case. Diaz tried to defer the arraignment a second time to give the SC time to resolve their motion.
The prosecution, however, objected, citing the administrative liability of the justices since the High Court has not issued a restraining order beyond the 10-day grace period under the rules of procedure.
The court told the Morato camp that the arraignment will proceed and there are remedies for them under the law anyway.
The court set the case for preliminary conference on January 16, 2013.
Morato was not arraigned earlier because he was recuperating from his heart surgery. He showed up at the anti-graft court in a wheelchair and, without prodding from the media, opened his shirt to show his surgical scar.
He is also wearing a face mask.
The court meantime granted Morato’s request for a furlough to visit the wake of his brother-in-law, Antonio Lazatin, who is married to his sister Teresita Morato.
Lazatin died last Saturday and is scheduled for interment on Wednesday. Morato said he wanted to go to their private chapel at the family compound at 192 Tomas Morato for the wake.
The court allowed him to visit the wake for 3 hours today. During the furlough, he will be under the command and control of the National Bureau of Investigation which maintains custody of Morato.
The court cited humanitarian grounds and Filipino culture in allowing the 3-hour furlough.
After the hearing, Morato returned to St. Luke's Medical Center to prepare for the wake.
Morato has been on hospital arrest at St. Luke's because of his surgery.
As of press time, there was no schedule yet for his visit.