Sandiganbayan tells Enrile: Do not complicate plunder case

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    THE Sandiganbayan has thrown out a motion by the camp of former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile that he claimed is intended to simplify proceedings in his P172.83 million plunder case.

    In its five-page resolution dated December 3, 2019 but released only last week, the anti-graft court’s Third Division said that, on the contrary, Enrile’s “Motion for Inclusion in the Pre-Trial Order the Issues which Need to be Resolved to Determine the Guilt or Innocence of the Accused of the Offense of Plunder as Charged in the Information” is likely to do the opposite.

    “The issues proposed by Enrile to be included in the Pre-Trial Order do not simplify the issues to be tackled, but complicate it even further,” the court declared.

    Associate Justice Ronald B. Moreno penned the resolution, with Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Bernelito R. Fernandez concurring.

    Enrile had proposed that the Pre-Trial Order include: 1) whether the particular overt “acts” alleged in the plunder information really constitute “over criminal acts” and it they were in fact committed by him; 2) whether such acts were committed in a “combination or series” as described in R 7080 or the Plunder Law; 3) whether he accumulated or amassed P50 million or more ill-gotten wealth by “repeatedly receiving…kickbacks or commissions” from co-accused Janet Lim Napoles and or her representatives.

    He argued that the very purpose of pre-trial in a criminal case is to promote a fair and expeditious trial of both the criminal and civil aspects.

    He claimed that if his proposal is carried, it will result in the simplification of the proceedings.

    The prosecution objected, noting that the issues proposed by Enrile are the same subject of earlier pleadings he submitted in court particularly in his request for a Bill of Particulars.

    The court sided with the prosecution as it stressed that the purpose of a trial is only to determine whether there is sufficient proof to support all the elements of the offense charged with moral certainty.

    “The ultimate issue in every criminal case boils down to whether the guilt of the accused has been proven beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution. Any attempt to muddle or complicate this matter during the pre-trial should not be countenanced,” the court said.

    If the former senator’s motion is to be granted, the Sandiganbayan said the defendant will gain ununfair advantage over the prosecution.

    “To accede to Enrile’s present request would thus be akin to allowing him to interfere in the prosecution’s manner of prosecuting the case vis-à-vis proving the elements of the offense charged. In effect, this could also lead to disallowing the prosecution from presenting certain evidentiary matters during trial,” the Sandiganbayan pointed out.

    Enrile’s plunder case was filed in 2014 together with similar charges against former Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

    Revilla’s case has been resolved resulting in his acquittal in 2018 due to insufficiency of evidence.

    Estrada’s case is already in an advanced stage with the prosecution having already finished its presentation of evidence.

    In a resolution dated September 9, 2019, the Fifth Division denied separate demurrers to evidence filed by Estrada and Napoles seeking their outright acquittal on a challenge to the sufficiency of government evidence.

    The court held that “the prosecution has established each and every element of the offense charged, through the detailed and spontaneous testimonies of the witnesses which was corroborated by the testimonies of other witnesses and concretized by the documentary evidence.”

    However, after nearly six years Enrile’s plunder case has yet to move past the pre-trial case due to numerous legal issues raised.

    “The present motion, in effect, seeks again to limit – via the pre-trial order – the evidence on the alleged overt criminal acts on the acts described in the bill of particulars. The detailed issues proposed to be included by Enrile in the pre-trial order would be unnecessary, considering that these issues would already be encompassed in the main issue to be resolved in every criminal case, that is, whether the prosecution has proven the elements of the offense charged with moral certainty,” the Sandiganbayan said.