Sandiganbayan thumbs down new witness for Antique mayor

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    NOT late substitution of witnesses in a court trial.

    The Sandiganbayan has barred Caluya, Antique Mayor Genevive Gumban Lim-Reyes from presenting a witness who was not included in the defense roster concerning criminal charges involving alleged illegal destruction of 245 coconut trees in 2014.

    In a resolution released last February 11, the anti-graft court’s Fifth Division sustained the objections of the prosecution to the defendant’s bid to put municipal administrator Pauline Rose Geroche in the witness stand to contest the charges.

    The defense claimed Geroche is a key witness because she was personally involved in the implementation of the relocation project in the municipality from the land acquisition phase to the awarding of housing units.

    Based on the 2018 indictment, Reyes was charged with one count of graft and one count of violation of RA 8048 or the Coconut Preservation Law for allegedly ordering the cutting down of 245 coconut trees standing on a five-hectare property owned by private complainant Juliet Ramos.

    Prosecutors, however, opposed Geroche’s testimony on the ground that her name was never once mentioned in either the pre-trial brief or the pre-trial order.

    They argued that if Geroche was indeed a crucial witness for the defense she should have been included in the defendant’s lineup.

    Under the rules, a witness who was not included in the pre-trial order may be allowed but only upon showing of a good cause and where the reason advanced by the accused will not deviate from the agreed rules on pre-trial.

    The Court upheld the prosecution’s stand, noting the defense offered no satisfactory explanation on why Geroche was not in the list of 13 names identified during pre-trial.

    “It is quite difficult to understand why Ms. Geroche, who allegedly was personally involved in the implementation of the relocation, would not be among the 13 witnesses listed. In view thereof …t he Court finds no reason to relax the rules,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    The defense said Geroche was the one who caused the taking of photos of the relocation site.

    Reyes had earlier denied there were any trees felled but Ramos was able to convince the court after producing aging photos of the area showing hundreds of standing coconut trees.

    This was backed by two farmers who testified that the trees were planted in the area but were cut down for the municipal project.