Comelec seeks to defer Arroyo trial to 2013

By Perseus Echeminada, The Philippine Star

Posted at Oct 05 2012 02:10 AM | Updated as of Oct 05 2012 10:10 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has asked the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to postpone the trial of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for electoral sabotage.

Felda Domingo, Pasay RTC branch 112 spokesperson, said Comelec lawyers, in an ex-parte motion, asked to reset the pretrial to Jan. 31, Feb. 7, 21 and 28 next year because the poll agency would be too busy performing election duties in preparation for the 2013 midterm elections.

She said Judge Jesus Mupas has asked the lawyers of Arroyo to comment on the motion of the prosecution panel seeking postponement of the trial.

The pretrial of the case was initially scheduled yesterday but it was again postponed to Oct. 25.

During the Sept. 23 pretrial the prosecution submitted their 28-page pretrial brief, including the list of 59 witnesses against Arroyo and her co-accused in the alleged electoral sabotage during the 2007 elections in Maguindanao.

Defense lawyers, however, reiterated their earlier stand not to submit their pretrial brief and will only respond to the evidence and testimonies presented by the prosecution.

Arroyo’s lawyer Benjamin Santors told Mupas that the former president has invoked her constitutional right to remain silent by not filing a pretrial brief on the electoral sabotage case filed against her and two others, saying the burden of proof of her guilt is on the Comelec which filed the case against her and her co-accused former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former Maguindanao Comelec provincial election supervisor Lintang Bedol, who both also did not filed their respective pretrial briefs, invoking the same principle.

The former president, who was detained for eights months at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City, has been granted P1-million bail for her temporary liberty.

“We will invoke our right to remain silent. This is guaranteed. We are not mandated to submit a pretrial brief.”

A pretrial brief is a document which contains the so-called road map of court proceedings in the trial, detailing the merits of the case as it contains the list of witnesses and evidence to be presented by the parties as well as stipulations of facts and issues to be resolved by the court.

“We might not even present evidence if in the course of the proceedings, we feel there is no more need for us to do so,” Santos said.

Reynaldo Princesa, counsel of Bedol, said that while a pretrial brief is mandatory in civil cases, it is not compulsory for the accused in criminal cases because the accused has the right to remain silent and the burden of proof to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt is with the prosecution.

“It is the prosecution, in this case the Comelec, that is mandated to have a pretrial brief because the burden of proving the guilt of the accused is on them. The defense will just present our evidence based on what they have,” he said.

Esmeralda Ladra, lead counsel of the prosecution, opposed the defense strategy, saying the defense should not be allowed to withhold their witnesses and evidence.

Santos said it is not their duty to divulge their witnesses at this point since they still do not know the witnesses of the prosecution.