Former Senator Bong Revilla's plunder trial has been reset to February after Thursday's hearing was cancelled because the Sandiganbayan has not yet issued a pre-trial order.
A pre-trial order is issued by the court before a trial commences. This contains a recital of actions taken, facts stipulated and list of evidence marked and witnesses to be presented.
The Sandiganbayan First Division said the pre-trial order is not yet finished because Revilla's co-accused, former chief of staff Atty. Richard Cambe, has yet to submit a soft copy of his pre-trial brief. There are also corrections on the markings of the prosecution's documentary evidence.
Right now, the draft of the pre-trial order is already 830 pages long.
Cambe said he was not aware that a soft copy of the pre-trial brief is required, and promised to submit it on Friday. Cambe represents himself in the case due to financial limitations.
Meanwhile, lead prosecutor Joefferson Toribio said they have yet to check which of their pre-marked evidence needs amendments. He said they were only informed of the corrections during the hearing.
"Hindi namin alam. As far as we are concerned, we submitted our pre-trial brief, and as far as we are concerned, everything is okay. We only knew that today, na may corrections na dapat gawin," Toribio said.
Both parties were given additional time to finalize the requirements before the hearing starts. The opening of the trial was moved to February 9, 2017.
BLOATED NUMBER OF WITNESSES
A total of 119 witnesses will be presented by the prosecution. Aside from the nine witnesses during the bail hearing, new witnesses will testify on the alleged misuse of Revilla's pork barrel. This includes 77 farmer-beneficiaries and bank representatives.
One of Revilla's lawyer Estelito Mendoza questioned the number of prosecution witnesses.
"I don't know the purpose of these witness(es)," Mendoza told the Sandiganbayan justices.
"There are many witnesses, the case will probably stand forever."
Prosecutor Toribio explained that the beneficiaries will
prove that Revilla's pork barrel was used to fund ghost projects.
"'Yung beneficiaries na 'yan, tinrim down na namin--320 'yan na beneficiaries. Of course, important 'yan dahil sinasabi ng akusado, as far as he is concerned, implemented 'yan. Well, in fact, etong beneficiaries ang nagsabing hindi implemented 'yan. Wala kaming natanggap," Toribio said.
Revilla, meanwhile, expressed dismay over another delay in his trial.
"I'm okay, pero mahaba pa 'tong laban na 'to," Revilla told reporters.
He also reacted to the bloated number of prosecution witnesses: "Syempre inexpect natin mapabilis para matapos na 'to, pero parang magtatagal pa."
Revilla's lawyer Mon Esguerra also pointed out the need for prompt trial because Revilla has already been detained for more than two years.
As a response, Toribio assured the prosecution is also "committed to finishing this case as soon as possible."
The prosecution has proposed to have the beneficiaries' testimonies stipulated in order to fast-track the proceedings.
"Stipulate nila ang testimony nila, so wala nang examination. Kung may cross-[examination] man, konti na lang, and then okay na ganun," Toribio added.
Revilla has been detained at the PNP Detention Center since 2014. He was accused of pocketing P224 million in public funds after diverting his PDAF to spurious non-government organizations which failed to deliver the intended assistance to beneficiaries. His bail petition was denied by the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court.
Revilla is the first lawmaker implicated in the billion peso scam to be put on trial. The plunder trial against Napoles and Gigi Reyes involving the pork barrel of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile started January 2016.
However, it was deferred to February due to problems in the prosecution's marking of evidence. The court has yet to resolve Enrile's motion to dismiss the case.