MANILA - The Sandiganbayan has allowed crucial witnesses overseas to testify via teleconferencing in the graft trial of former MRT-3 General Manager Al Vitangcol for alleged extortion over a maintenance contract.
The court's 6th division allowed former Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar, currently assigned in Santiago Chile, and Inekon Group Chief Executive Officer Josef Husek, currently in Prague, Czech Republic, to testify in Philippine embassies in their respective locations on August 31.
The court had initially refused the prosecution’s request to present the witnesses in Vitangcol's two graft cases.
But after receiving printouts of electronic correspondence between the witnesses and prosecutors handling the case, the court reversed its decision.
“The court, after examining the said printouts, and in the interest of justice, resolves to grant the prosecution’s motion. Said printouts, which essentially explained the reason for the inability of said witnesses to travel to the Philippines to testify in the present cases, do not constitute a part of the prosecution’s evidence in chief,” the court said in a resolution penned by 6th Division Chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez.
The resolution was promulgated Monday.
Vitangcol is on trial for allegedly demanding $30 million from Inekon officials in 2012 in exchange for the MRT-3 maintenance contract during a meeting at the Forbes Park residence of Rychtar, who was then Czech Ambassador to the Philippines.
The former MRT chief opposed the presentation of Rychtar and Husek via video conferencing because the supposed concealment of their emails violated his right to due process as it was impossible to examine their contents.
PH Trams incorporator Wilson De Vera, who supposedly told Inekon that they would secure the contract to supply MRT trains if they paid Vitangcol, also said the testimonies of Rychtar and Husek violated his right to due process.
In its resolution, the court reiterated that Rule 10 Section 1 of the Rules on Electronic Evidence is broad enough to include the presentation of testimonial evidence through video conferencing.
Section 1 says that “after summarily hearing the parties pursuant to Rule 9 of these rules, the court may authorize the presentation of testimonial evidence by electronic means."
If further said before allowing this, "the court shall determine the necessity for such presentation and prescribe terms and conditions as may be necessary under the circumstance, including the protection of the rights of the parties and witnesses concerned.”
Other than requiring that the hearings be held in Philippine embassies in Santiago and Prague, the court gave other conditions for the video testimony.
It said the prosecution should make arrangements with the embassies, which will be considered “extensions of the courtroom.”
The rooms where Rychtar and Husek will be testifying must also be well-lit and equipment to be used should ensure that all parties must be able to view each other.
Facial expressions of the witnesses should also be seen and their testimonies must be clear and free from interruptions due to poor internet connection.
The court also mandated that at least three cameras should be used: one in front of the witnesses and two to enable the court in Manila to see the entire room.
“The court shall discontinue the video conferencing if it appears that technical issues, if any, will cause the violation or tend to cause the violation of the rights of the accused,” the court said.
The court also said that the August 31 setting is final and that it would not give further additional hearing dates for Rychtar and Husek.
Government prosecutors handling two more counts of graft and one count of violation of the government procurement law related to the MRT-3 case at the Sandigabayan 3rd Division also have a pending request for the court to allow Rychtar and Husek to testify via video conferencing.